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May 2012
Faith, Service and Leadership
By Casey Jacobus

     You may have noticed the more pronounced presence in Charlotte of one of our region’s educational strongholds—Gardner-Webb University. They have consolidated Charlotte operations in their newly acquired two-story 25,000-square-foot building located at the Arrowood Road exit off Interstate 77.

     Gardner-Webb University (GWU) began Charlotte operations in 1983, offering degrees in business and criminal justice. It added nursing programs in 1995, and in 2001, acquired additional space to accommodate growing graduate program enrollment, particularly in education and business.

     In its new building, GWU has renovated the top floor to include seven classrooms, several office areas, meeting rooms and open study spaces. Approximately 300 students attend classes held Monday through Saturday at the Charlotte Campus. They can choose from more than 20 undergraduate and graduate major fields of study.

     “Outreach is a part of our mission at GWU,” explains GWU President Frank Bonner. “Charlotte is a great place for us to be located. We are not here to compete with other educational institutions; we’re here to be of service to the region.”

     By acquiring its own facility, GWU has established a permanent presence in Charlotte and enabled the development of new academic programs geared specifically toward the Charlotte community. The Charlotte campus will not only house undergraduate and graduate courses, it will also provide office and conference space for the university’s developmental efforts in Charlotte.

     “Our long-term goal is to design several graduate programs, particularly through the Godbold School of Business, that will address the particular needs of those living and working in Charlotte,” says Bonner. “We’re investigating a trust and wealth management program, and possibly even a banking program. Charlotte is the nation’s second-largest banking center, so we hope the Charlotte Center will become a real hub of activity for professional and graduate education in that area.”

 

Strongly Grounded

     Gardner-Webb University is a private Christian university providing both undergraduate and graduate education strongly grounded in the liberal arts while also offering opportunities to prepare for various professions. By embracing faith and intellectual freedom, balancing conviction with compassion and inspiring a love of learning, service and leadership, GWU focuses on preparing its graduates to make significant contributions for God and humanity in an ever-changing global economy.

     “Every walk of life needs people of ethical character, who are committed to service as well as to competence in their working life,” asserts Bonner. “Our graduates are committed to making other people’s lives better.”

      Gardner-Webb University’s main campus is situated on 200 acres in Boiling Springs, N.C., approximately 50 miles west of Charlotte in the Piedmont area. It has a total of 5 professional schools, 2 academic schools and 11 academic departments offering nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate major fields of study. In addition to the Charlotte campus and online study, there are 14 GWU satellite campuses located throughout North Carolina.

     GWU’s core curriculum ranks in the nation’s top two percent for quality and breadth, according to the 2011-12 “What Will They Learn?” study by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). The study rated all the major public and private colleges and universities in all 50 states—a total of 1,007 four-year institutions—on an A through F scale. GWU was among 19 schools receiving an A designation and the only school in the Carolinas.

     “The beauty of our core curriculum,” says Bonner, “lies in its diversity, its versatility. No matter the career field our graduates ultimately choose, their core classes provide a foundation of knowledge, attitudes, values and learning skills to enable them to not only achieve professional success, but to lead fulfilled and productive lives as well.”

     “It is greatly gratifying to receive this affirmation from an outside organization with the prestige of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni,” says GWU Provost Dr. Ben Leslie. “It is encouraging to see that the high value we place on critical subjects like history, mathematics, composition, science, literature and languages has gained recognition in the national arena.”

 

Gaining Stature

     Gardner-Webb University has experienced remarkable growth, perseverance and maturity throughout its history. The school was chartered in 1905 as Boiling Springs High School, a private boarding school established by the Kings Mountain and Sandy Run Baptist Associations. It was intended to be “an institution where the young... could have the best possible educational advantages under distinctive Christian influence.”

     The institution acquired junior college status in 1928. In 1942, the school was renamed Gardner-Webb College to honor Governor O. Max Gardner and his wife, Fay Webb Gardner, for their support.

     During the years following World War II, the school experienced physical growth and academic development. New buildings went up as enrollments increased. The school received full accreditation as a senior college in 1971. In 1980, it began offering a Master of Arts degree in education. The school officially became known as Gardner-Webb University in January 1993 and today is a flourishing regional institution.

     Although there have been many changes over the years, GWU remains closely related to the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. Historically, GWU has played significant roles in teacher education and ministerial preparation for church-related vocations. Programs of instruction and experiences designed to prepare teachers and ministers continue to be major objectives.

     Gardner-Webb University pioneered the adult degree completion concept in North Carolina, launching the Greater Opportunities for Adult Learners (GOAL) program in 1978.The GOAL program was designed to bridge the gap to a four-year degree for those students who were completing two years in the state’s community college system, as well as those who had started at a four-year college or university, but had not completed all of their coursework.

     Since its inception, the GOAL program has enabled over 9,000 students to earn their bachelor’s degree. Today, it is offered at 16 education centers throughout North Carolina, including Charlotte and online.

     Bobbie Cox, assistant provost and dean of GWU’s College of Adult and Continuing Education is very proud of the GOAL program; she, herself, graduated from it.

     “I always had a personal goal to finish my bachelor’s degree, but it just wasn’t do-able until GWU began offering the GOAL program locally,” says Cox. “Being a wife and a mom, I had some hesitation about the amount of time I could dedicate to full-time studies. However, I entered the GOAL program and I can honestly say that it is one of the best things I ever did for myself.”

     Cox, who was working full-time for a law enforcement agency when she enrolled in the GOAL program, went on to complete her master’s degree, pursue doctoral work and accept an adjunct professor’s position with GWU. After working 12 years as an adjunct professor, she was offered a full-time position.

     “The GOAL Program can make dreams come true,” Cox says. “By choosing the GOAL Program and seeking higher education, the way was paved for me to find joy and sense of fulfillment in my academic life.”

 

Innovative Leadership Development

     In 2008 Gardner-Webb established the Center for Innovative Leadership Development (CILD) with locations both on its Boiling Springs campus and in Charlotte. Through this center, the School of Education seeks to develop partnerships with local schools. Superintendents from those school systems have been involved in the design of the center and in setting its goals.

     The purpose of CILD is to develop local leaders’ skills and enhance organizational performance through innovative leadership training. Its mission is to draw attention to the important role of education, research and creativity in the formation of effective leaders. The center is a joint endeavor accomplished through the cooperation of GWU’s School of Education, School of Divinity, and the Godbold School of Business.

     Among its goals are to increase high school graduation rates, to increase the rate of young adults successfully securing higher education and job readiness training, and to increase the level of engagement in schools and other local community-based organizations.

     CILD offers educational conferences for teachers and administrators in public schools throughout North and South Carolina. The 2011 conference focused on formative assessment, reflective teaching and the developmental curriculum.

     “Participants gained valuable insight about current policy issues, funding issues and curriculum developments straight from the mouths of those who are making those decisions,” says Dr. Doug Eury, dean of the GWU School of Education and director of the Center for Innovative Leadership Development.

     Dr. Bill Harrison, chairman of the N.C. State Board of Education and featured speaker at the conference, praised GWU’s role in connecting higher education with the K-12 sector.

     “Gardner-Webb has taken the lead and reached out to the public schools in our region, and this partnership is really a model for others we hope to develop around the state,” he remarked.

     Gardner-Webb University’s School of Education already maintains partnerships with Charlotte schools, assisting with curriculum initiatives, leadership development through structured internships and turnaround projects, such as those at Cochrane Middle School and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

     In 2009, Eury was approached by the school leadership and asked to help solve the problem of low performing students. Eury led a team of GWU professors in an effort to help both of these schools improve test scores, coaching administrators and providing workshops on developing learning communities, understanding formative assessment and improving instructional delivery for the faculty. Testing at the end of the year showed a marked improvement in students’ test scores.

 

Leadership in the Community

     Nearly 2,100 Gardner-Webb alumni live and work in Charlotte. The Charlotte Chapter of the Gardner-Webb Alumni Association is the school’s most active local chapter, sponsoring numerous social and service events in Charlotte each year. It recently hosted a Career Readiness Workshop at the Charlotte Center. More than 55 people—many of them community members with no Gardner-Webb affiliation—met to discuss best practices for career searching, interviewing, and resume building.

     As part of GWU’s commitment to service, the Charlotte Alumni Chapter is planning a community service initiative for the fall of 2012 and is currently interviewing community organizations to share in that initiative.

     GWU already has partnerships with numerous Charlotte organizations, including the Charlotte Chamber and the Charlotte Regional Partnership. Working with WCNC, it is a sponsor of the Rachel’s Challenge initiative to overcome violence and bullying in middle and high schools.

     Gardner-Webb’s future plans in Charlotte include offering academic programs through the Godbold School of Business geared specifically toward the particular needs of Charlotte professionals. Building on the CILD’s current efforts to provide specialized leadership training, GWU is also interested in meeting with local executives and community leaders in Charlotte to design specialized degree and certificate programs exclusively for their employees and members.

     As Gardner-Webb University continues to build its Charlotte presence, it will continue to find ways to serve as a catalyst for developing the skills of local leaders with the focus on improving the quality of life in the city and region.

     “Faith, service, leadership is not just a slogan,” asserts Bonner. “Leadership permeates everything we do.”

 

Casey Jacobus is a Lake Norman-based freelance writer.
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