Gonzaga Experience Live (GEL) is a Gonzaga University tradition dating back nearly 30 years. GEL is put on each year in mid-April and is an overnight way for prospective students to visit campus and immerse themselves in the full Zag experience.
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the closure of campus housing, GU had no choice but to cancel GEL this year.
GEL is a weekend in which prospective students who have already been admitted to GU are matched with a current Zag, their GEL host, and then all day and well into the night the GEL hosts will take their GEL students to numerous planned activities, all geared toward giving students an exclusive look at what life at GU would be like. The admitted student then has the option to spend the night in the residence hall of their GEL "parent."
This event is a fan favorite among GU students, many of whom enjoyed their time at GEL so much that they signed up to be hosts the following years, to welcome the new wave of potential Zags.
Sophomore Sara Whelchel participated in GEL weekend her senior year of high school. Prior to GEL, GU was her second-choice school, and she wasn’t yet sold on becoming a Zag. Her mindset did a complete 180° after the weekend, and she knew she had found her new home.
“I don’t know if I would be at Gonzaga if I hadn’t attended GEL,” Whelchel said. “But I remember texting my parents the night I stayed over and telling them that I had found the school for me.”
Her experience at GEL and the friendship she made with her GEL host were driving forces behind her commitment to becoming a Zag. She credits fun activities that were planned, mixed with the overwhelming school spirit, for why she was quickly able to say, without a doubt, this was the school for her.
“GEL is 24 hours of complete fun mixed with complete chaos, but in the best way possible,” Whelchel said. “There were tons of activities offered so that prospective students could find something that best suited their interests.”
Whelchel said she sees GEL as being integral to the admission and enrollment process at GU, and knows that so many current Zags, just like herself, made their commitment decisions based on their experience at GEL.
GEL coordinator Becky Biddison explained just how closely tied GEL is to GU’s fall enrollment. She notes that GEL’s success over the years is likely a reason for high application and enrollment numbers.
“Generally, about 70% of students who attend GEL end up enrolling at Gonzaga,” Biddison said. “That number is a mixture of students who had already committed before attending GEL and those who committed after attending.”
With GEL playing such a large role in student interest and enrollment at GU, questions have been raised about how this cancellation could affect enrollment numbers come fall 2020.
Erin Hayes, director of undergraduate student enrollment, explained that while GEL weekend’s cancellation is being taken into consideration when looking at enrollment numbers, the more pressing concern is the global pandemic.
“We are deeply concerned for students and families, and are making adjustments to help them,” Hayes said. “For example, we’ve extended the enrollment deadline to June 1 to provide more time to sort out options and make a decision.”
While there are no concrete projections on how GEL and COVID-19 will impact the incoming freshman class come fall, there have been other measures taken, such as extending the deadline for commitment, so that prospective students are still given as much information and resources as possible, to help guide their decisions.
In lieu of the in-person GEL weekend, the GEL coordination team has created a webpage dedicated to providing potential Zags with all the information they would have received at GEL.
“We are offering virtual information sessions for prospective students, virtual admitted student information sessions, virtual admissions counselor meetings and a virtual campus and residence hall tour,” Biddison said.
Biddison and Hayes stressed that both the GEL coordination team and Undergraduate Admissions is working as hard as they can to make sure that the class of 2024 has as much information and resources during these unprecedented times, as any other incoming class would.
“We hope to create some more virtual content for a virtual GEL,” Biddison said. “We were already planning a virtual GEL to bring that experience to students who couldn’t make it to campus, so we are continuing to build on that.”