Arizona Western College [AWC] is located in the leafy green capital of the US, on the border of California and Mexico in Yuma, AZ. The college has nine campuses serving 10,000 sq miles of a highly rural river and desert district. They have been serving this community for more than half a century. AWC has an annual student population of 11,000.
Over half of these students are Hispanic, so AWC truly embraces their 1st generation student status. Nearly 70% of students identify as the first in their family to attend college, while 40% of faculty and staff were the first to attend college in their family. Arizona Western College is transforming lives and building thriving communities. This access to education is not just life-changing for the student but can change the trajectory of a family and the fabric of a community.
The goal was to bring happiness and joy to the conference. They created an interactive limbo game using the Happiness Heartbeats exercise highs and lows as inspiration. Participants played during breaks, and our own Jenn Lim joined the fun.
AWC wanted to showcase its students in their greenhouse build because they pride themselves on being a student-focused and student-centered college. The greenhouse showcased the sunny and bright desert in which the college is located while adding locally grown crops to emphasize the idea that AWC cultivates students from the moment they step foot on campus. Some agricultural students grew the plant in the middle of the greenhouse in the on-campus greenhouse.
They also wanted to focus on the idea of nurturing our own greenhouse before we can grow others. Starting with the ME, using a watering can created by welding students, and moving to the WE, using lights to represent water that will nourish and cultivate them every day.
The AWC team prides itself on creativity and design, so they decided that in addition to the Happiness Heartbeats limbo game and the Greenhouse Model, they also created a DNA balloon arch to represent the organization's DNA. The stars show the values and how they are integrated into the mission and vision of the college. They also serve as a guide for the team to always move forward with respect and agility.
Shipping their creations to Nashville proved to be a real-life Happiness Heartbeat exercise. Two ladies from the AWC team spent a long time at the shipping office to ensure all of the hard work would arrive safely in Nashville. However, when they arrived in Nashville, the top half of the box was missing. The watering can gone, the trophy they won at last year's AFIT event lost, along with the table decorations. Sitting in a low, exhausted, and frustrated, the ladies decided to get a bite to eat before repurchasing the missing items. The time was well spent laughing and enjoying some good ole southern comfort food was a high moment of connection and laughter. After an adventurous journey through the outskirts of Nashville, searching for a watering can, their resilience was rewarded with the Spirit Award!
Arizona Western College prides its unique culture, community pride, and sense of belonging on campus. It is a college of the community in which every student belongs. AWC nursing students were welcomed at local hospitals during the pandemic. Local events often highlight the college and its commitment to the community. AWC supports students by providing comfort and strengthening bonds in and outside the classroom.
In 2018, they embarked on a strategic plan to build on this sense of belonging and strengthen community bonds. But then 2020 happened, and like most colleges, AWC suffered as they attempted to move online. The leadership decided to double down on building a collaborative culture together. Since then, 100 people have participated in culture workshops. Beyond Happiness lines up so beautifully with the culture work being done at the college. It helped them explore what it means to build an authentic culture where everyone is included. And the greenhouse conditions [alignement, belonging, accountability, commitment] are the underpinnings of a productive culture where everyone feels connected, which is the real ROI-ripple of impact.
Arizona Western College is creating an authentic culture through its Sunshine Program. Monthly events include role-playing games, potlucks, and cultural celebrations. These events offer team members an opportunity not just to do the work but to speak up and lift up each other. They created a safe space to share while allowing leadership and all team to be true to their authentic self.
Rippling the impact of the Greenhouse Model and AFIT experience, the AWC team would like to share the Beyond Happiness book with their larger district. They plan to offer a book club throughout the semester since the concepts from the book align well with the culture realignment work they are currently doing.