From the Students: Christian University at Gardner-Webb
Gardner-Webb's Christian foundation is important to students
in unique ways. Hear from current students about what it means to them.
Jonathon Rhyne, Freshman Marketing/Journalism
“I know that on my bad days, I am loved by a bunch of people who I don’t even know… Here, people do care about you, and they don’t even have to know your name.” (More)
Hannah Ray, Sophomore English
“Everything falls under that umbrella of 'Why are we doing this?' and a Christian University has the responsibility to do it because they’re trying to glorify God in all that they’re doing.” (More)
Jeremiah Hamby, Senior Psychology
“It’s more than going to Church on Sunday; it’s living in a community of Christian believers in everyday life and being intentional, being vulnerable with them, and the atmosphere at Gardner-Webb has really shown me that…” (More)
Caitlyn Brotherton, Senior ASL
“That’s what college is all about: figuring out what you want to do and who you want to be, and when everyone around you is pointing you towards Christ, it’s a lot easier to be focused on him.” (More)
GWU Professor Encouraged Alum to Follow Her Interests by Pursuing Biology Minor
Erin M. Grace, (’02) American Sign Language major, biology minor
“My professor supported me when I shifted my minor from interpreting to biology. That enabled me to open the door to working with animals while still staying involved in the deaf community. It was my minor in biology that enabled me to get hired in my first animal husbandry position at the Georgia Aquarium. And my education has been very valuable when we have deaf guests visit the Academy, and I get to share some of the highlights with them.”
A typical work day for Erin McDonald Grace might include doing a physical on a shark, assisting with a surgery on a waxy monkey tree frog or communing with the penguins. The 2002 graduate of Gardner-Webb University is a registrar and senior animal health biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS) in San Francisco, Calif.
Based in Golden Gate Park, CAS houses an aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in scientific research and education. The Academy has nearly 46 million scientific specimens—one of the largest and most varied in the world.
“While working with our diverse collection at the Academy, I'm constantly amazed with the subtle differences amongst species,” Grace shared.
Her favorite animals are the manatees and penguins, and she’s never been afraid of any creature—even tarantulas and snakes. “I've always fancied every animal no matter the taxonomy,” Grace confided. “Coming to CAS was the first time I had ever worked with reptiles. It was this experience that taught me they have very distinct personalities, and I was captivated by their charm.”
She has no qualms about getting in a shallow pool to coax a shark into a vinyl stretcher and then helping take its body measurements and draw blood. The shark’s weight is measured by attaching the stretcher to a crane that briefly lifts the fish out of the water.
Grace, who grew up in Marietta, Ga., developed a love for animals and a desire to preserve nature from an early age. “I started volunteering at the Cobb County (Ga.) Humane Society when I was 10 years old and knew I would pursue a career in the animal field,” she reflected.
With her intense and longtime interest in animals, Grace’s major in American Sign Language (ASL) doesn’t seem to fit her career. But an experience she had in high school gave her a desire to learn ASL and work with the deaf community. Gardner-Webb’s reputable sign language and interpreting program was recommended to her by an advisor at another college.
She enjoyed all of her ASL classes and was immersed in the deaf culture. “I was fortunate to have a deaf professor, a deaf roommate my junior year and was surrounded by an awesome welcoming deaf community,” she explained. “As anyone will attest, the best way to learn a foreign language is to be fully immersed in the language and the culture.”
Despite her exceptional experience as an ASL major, Grace couldn’t abandon her love for animals. “My professor supported me when I shifted my minor from interpreting to biology. That enabled me to open the door to working with animals while still staying involved in the deaf community,” she related. “It was my minor in biology that enabled me to get hired in my first animal husbandry position at the Georgia Aquarium. And my education has been very valuable when we have deaf guests visit the Academy, and I get to share some of the highlights with them.”
Her duties also include taking care of the animals in quarantine. “All of the animals we acquire, whether from another facility, independent breeder, or government confiscation, must go through a 30-day quarantine period to make sure there are no pathogens or parasites transferred to our current collection,” she explained.
After her work with the animals, she puts on her “registrar hat," which includes contacting other organizations about receiving animals. She calls airlines to book flights for the animals, renews any permits that need attention, and updates records for the in-house collection. “It's truly gratifying to coordinate the whole transaction of the animals, pick them up from the airport, transfer them into terrestrial quarantine, maintain their care and treatment, then deliver healthy animals onto exhibit, watch them exhibit natural behaviors and successfully reproduce,” Grace elaborated.
Her goal and the goal of CAS is to help prevent the extinction of endangered species through education, research, and preservation of their natural habitats. She keeps this mission in mind as she interacts with visitors. “I want them to understand that their daily actions—using plastic bags, releasing balloons in the air and littering on the beach—affect the natural world around them,” Grace affirmed. “They have the power to change and make a positive difference.”