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Preparing for Real Life


When OUAZ opened its doors to students in the fall of 2017, it was a priority from day one to set students up for not only career success, but also for life success. To help achieve that goal, the campus implemented Personal Growth Days (PGD) that require students to complete workshops that provide them with work-ready and life-ready skills that they would not necessarily learn in their regular college classes.

These Beyond Classroom Learning (BCL) courses are part of students’ graduation requirements. Every three PGD workshops the students complete meets the criteria for one BCL course. So, students must complete three PGD workshops for every BCL credit they need to graduate, which could vary depending on their status.

Each semester there are between 10 and 15 workshops to choose from. The workshops run for two weeks on Wednesday afternoons from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm, with multiple workshop sessions throughout the semester to accommodate schedules. Students may attend extra workshop sessions to make up for workshops missed in prior terms or to earn credit toward future semesters.

Workshop topics are chosen by Campus President Dr. Dennis Tyner and Assistant Dean for Academic Operations Carrie Philippon, sometimes on the recommendation of students and staff.  Presenters are then identified from the OUAZ faculty/staff, or from within the Surprise community. The three categories of offerings include Adulting and Life Skills, Career Development & Professional Knowledge, and General Interest & Personal Development.

The 2024 spring semester is serving up some interesting options that allow students to get hands-on experience and engage in topics highly relevant to their education and future careers.

Adulting and Life Skills

In this category, engineering and mathematics adjunct professor Jack McMorris is presenting “Basic Home Electricity,” a hands-on workshop that allows students to gain a better conceptual and visual understanding of home electricity essentials such as switches, sockets, and wiring. “All of us, at some point, have experienced electrical issues within our home, such as light switches not working properly or light bulbs needing replacement,” explained McMorris. “It can be very useful to understand how to rectify these issues rather than pay someone to assist. In addition, many people are curious as to how home electricity works in our everyday appliances. How do we get electricity from the energy companies? How do switches work? What is power? Our workshop aims to clear up some of these queries.” 

Also in this category is “Sewing 101,” presented by Kristin Steele, OUAZ head volleyball coach and grandmother of nine who has been sewing and making quilts for 20 years. This workshop was first offered in the spring of 2023 and was brought back by popular demand. In the first week, students learn a basic running stitch and how to sew with both thread and fibers by making a little pouch for coins or other items.  In week two, sewing machines are introduced, with students learning the machine basics. Students make either a pillow or a simple quilt block. Steele covers others basics, as well, such as how to sew on a button, repair a seam, hem a pair of pants, and backstitch for monogramming. When asked what made her a sewing expert, Steele replied, “If the grandma part didn’t make me an expert, I also sewed masks during the pandemic . . . that certainly did!” 

Other spring Adulting and Life Skills workshops include “Automotive Maintenance,” which covers everyday skills to maintain, repair, and improve your vehicle, as well as “First Aid CPR AED,” which trains participants to provide first aid and CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Career Development & Professional Knowledge

AI (artificial intelligence) is much in the news these days, and ChatGPT is one component particularly relevant to college students. That’s why a workshop titled “A Conversation about ChatGPT: Friend or Foe” is being offered this spring. Co-taught by Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Patricia Marsh and Associate Professor of English Dr. Lauren Curtright, the workshop covers debates and policies about the uses and abuses of ChatGPT and allows students to experiment with and discuss generating content with the technology.

Marsh applies her extensive experience grading academic papers in psychology courses, along with several AI screening tools, to evaluate college-level writing when fabrications are suspected in students’ work. She explains the importance of having a handle on this new technology. “Understanding which contexts are more open and accepting of AI-generated content vs. those that prohibit it is important, not just in the classroom but also within various applied settings, such as sports, health, careers, entertainment, and politics.”

Curtright concurs. “Teaching college-level writing for more than two decades, I’ve helped students to understand and avoid plagiarism, as well as to use guides and tools for documenting sources, developing ideas, complexifying diction and syntax, and correcting errors. Since the recent release of ChatGPT, I’ve participated in discussions with colleagues on both incorporating and limiting this tool within writing instruction to meet English course objectives.”

Both presenters believe giving students an opportunity to voice their understanding, knowledge, and thoughts on ChatGPT through the workshop is a key component to its ethical use.

“Life’s Little Advices” is a first for the PGD workshop lineup. Admissions Advisor to Athletics Will Thompson is the presenter, who draws from his own life’s experiences and mistakes to provide advice to help students navigate some of life’s challenges. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, and as an executive chef in the hospitality industry, I was frequently asked about advice on many issues,” he shared. “But most people don’t listen to advice given if it’s not asked for. This workshop allows students to hear advice not only from faculty and staff, but also from their peers.”

In previous semesters, Thompson has taught the very popular “Basics of Cooking” workshop, which covers knife skills, cooking chicken properly, making a one pot meal, and cooking eggs a few different ways.

Other spring workshops in this category include “FREE MONEY! FREE MONEY!”, which explores outside scholarships, how they work, and how to get them, and “Skills Needed to Land a Job,” where students explore various skills that will give them the best chance of gaining employment.

General Interest & Personal Development

None of us operates in a void. Instead, we utilize our practical skills in the context of greater meaning, purpose, and social engagement. In this category, students are able to explore issues that help them integrate life skills with personal growth and development. This spring, they have the following workshops to choose from:

“Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” – Students discuss the definition of DEI, its purpose, and how they can have unity in light of diversity at OUAZ.

“Enlightened Faith” – Students explore the relationship between faith and reason, as well as the reasons they have for their faith.

“Expressive Art” – Students explore and embrace the process of creating through self-expression through various artistic mediums such as sketching, pen/ink, watercolor/acrylic painting and sculpture.

“Mindfulness, Meditation and Centered Prayer” –This workshop teaches methods for slowing things down, learning to focus to reduce anxiety, and deepening students’ relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Self Defense” – Students learn effective techniques for self-defense, fitness and awareness using Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ).

“The Personal Growth Day idea is very effective because not only does it teach the students new skills, but it also addresses a gap that we are seeing in industry,” suggested McMorris. “Many students leave school with a degree but often lack confidence in the soft skills, such as time management, presentation skills, communication skills, Microsoft office skills, or smart dress vs casual dress. Practical experience and skills are also missing. These workshops allow students to become more well-rounded and ready for their chosen career.” 


About Ottawa University

Founded in 1865, Ottawa University prepares professional and liberal arts graduates for lifetimes of personal significance, vocational fulfillment and service to God and humanity as a Christ-inspired community of grace and open inquiry. Ottawa University is a comprehensive, not-for-profit educational institution, serving more than 4,500 students through its residential campuses in Ottawa, Kan., and Surprise, Ariz., and adult campuses in Overland Park, Kan.; Surprise, Ariz.; Brookfield, Wis.; and online. Visit for more information.

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