The APU Preview event brought back something that the school has been missing: reaching students in traditional yet new ways.
For the first time since the pre-COVID era, Azusa Pacific held the APU Preview experience from Thursday, Nov. 3 to Friday, Nov. 4. During these two days, I followed high school senior Ethan Grajeda Smith’s journey to see first-hand what this event was like for possible incoming students.
I first ran into Smith around the start of the event where he was praying over men who were handing out bibles on behalf of the Gideons International Association.
Standing by Smith was his ambassador buddy, Daniel Medley, whose role was to show Smith the full campus experience. Medley noted how Smith’s interaction with the Gideons’ representatives was a sign of how future students will add value to APU’s culture.
“Ethan is a very godly man. It’s been very cool to be around him. Honestly, I think he’s pouring in to me. He’s showing me a new side of God,” Medley said.
While walking over to one of Smith’s new favorite spots on west campus, the turtle pond, Smith talked about what brought him from his home in Santa Cruz to this event. He first heard about APU from a woman who worked at his middle school and whose son attended the school. Her son spoke so highly of APU and their Chrisitian ministries program (the path Smith plans to pursue) that Smith visited in the summer with his family and came again for these two days by himself.
“I don’t know how it’s all going to work out. I just know the Lord has been leading me to check out APU,” Smith said.
Socially, Smith was excited to hear about the surfing and rock climbing which is relatively accessible near campus. Spiritually speaking, Smith was impressed with how he could see the body of Christ through those on campus. He also believes the school’s theology is solidly rooted in God’s word.
In a short time, he became acclimated on campus, meeting professors, pastors and students, quickly becoming known for his extroverted personality and Jesus sandals.
After adventuring around campus, Smith attended the dinner held out on Trinity lawn. Here, he enjoyed burgers and fries provided by the Habit while learning more about APU.
Michael White, who recently stepped into APU’s position of Vice President of Enrollment, set the tone for the dinner.
“We talk a lot about difference makers here at this university and events like this and nights and moments where you’re building relationships with current students, interacting with staff, and having moments with faculty, it’s predicated on this idea that God has put something in your life. He’s put purpose in your life,” White said.
After the dinner, there was a lip sync battle as well as a Q/A session with Center For Student Action Director Karen Rouggly, who was interviewed over hot wings. Here she revealed she was waitlisted at APU before being accepted for her freshman year in 2001.
While waitlisted, Rouggly talked about how she surrendered to God’s will. Smith could relate to this sentiment. While watching Rouggly struggle to eat the spicy wings, he talked about how the Holy Spirit would guide his path so that even after this visit, he didn’t have to worry about what school he’d choose.
“The Lord wants you to be in the center of his will so just as long as you do that it’s not scooby doo detective work to find where you belong. He‘ll show you,” he said.
Smith then attended his very first Kaleo. He was impressed with the worship and was looking forward to more of it during the next day’s chapel.
But before his first day was complete, Smith visited an off campus classic: Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers. While walking down Cougar Walk, Smith met freshman Sam Edinger and invited him to his late night dinner.
At Cane’s, Edinger along with Medley gave Smith more of the scoop on what it’s like to be an APU student. They also had deep conversations about what it means to be a Christian. For Smith, it was the perfect way to end the night.
After immersing himself in dorm life by staying with Medley in Trinity Hall, Smith was ready for his second day.
He started the day with a breakfast burrito while listening to a presentation about the APU student experience. This energized Smith to meet more students on cougar walk and learn more about APU’s programs.
Day two provided students the opportunity to meet faculty. Smith did this for the rest of his APU Preview experience, leaving shortly before the grand finale of the root beer float station.
Medley reflected on his time being Smith’s buddy ambassador. “I think it’s really cool that I got to be a part of his experience. To help him out in my own little way,” he said.
After growing close to Smith, Medley said he would miss him. Before leaving, though, Smith assured he’d stay in touch and perhaps one day meet again.
Smith has already been accepted into APU. He still has an overnight visit at a different school, but he will be making his decision soon. Not to give any spoilers, but I’ll say that from what Smith revealed to me, there’s a good chance APU will be seeing more of him come next fall.
The overall consensus was that the event was a success. Senior Admissions Representative Thomas Chan said, “I missed having events like these. To have some of this back allows us to recapture some of the APU culture and rekindle what we used to be but to also bring it into a new era.”
Chan continued to talk about how longer events like these encourage students (such as Smith who is one of his students) to travel farther distances. Knowing this makes the months of planning all worthwhile. “Seeing this come together for students to enjoy this and have a little help in their college search process, that’s the real dessert of it all,” Chan said.
For those who know someone who’s interested in attending APU, there are three more preview events in the foreseeable future. Anyone interested should come out. As Chan said, “There’s [only] so much you can learn about a school by looking online, but there’s nothing quite like being immersed on campus by walking alongside a student to see what campus life is like for yourself.”