Successful Students and Alumni

Click on each name below to learn more about successful students and alumni from the Hunt School of Nursing, the Department of Exercise Science, and the Physician Assistant Studies Program.


Bonnie Baczewski, DPT, EXSI '13

Photo of Bonnie BaczewskiBonnie Baczewski ’13 suffered four injuries as a young athlete and spent a lot of time in rehab and physical therapy. “I was impressed with the physical therapists and their knowledge of the human body and rehabilitation and found the rehab process interesting,” Baczewski reflected. “I decided to do a short internship at the clinic and take a few anatomy classes before going to college, and this just further solidified my passion for physical therapy.”

She chose to major in exercise science at Gardner-Webb University, where she was offered a full tuition scholarship. “I knew exercise science would best prepare me for graduate school,” Baczewski observed. “The curriculums line up well together, and the majority of my prerequisite courses fell under the exercise science curriculum.”

When she arrived at the University of St. Augustine in Florida for graduate school, Baczewski discovered she was well-prepared for the doctor of physical therapy program. She was often reminded of her professors at Gardner-Webb, and the way they helped students remember the material. 

Since graduating with her doctorate, Baczewski has accepted her first job as a travel physical therapist in California. Travel physical therapists complete 13-week contracts in different areas of the country. 

I can recall countless times in graduate school where I felt at an advantage to other students in the program because of my studies at Gardner-Webb. My professors at GWU were so invested in truly helping students learn, which I soon found to be beneficial for my graduate studies, especially with courses such as anatomy and kinesiology.

Riley Brock, EXSI '18

Photo of Riley Brock Riley Brock of Kings Mountain, N.C., conducted research to help manage type 1 diabetes as part of his Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio. The honor was personal for Brock, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 9.

Instead of traditional research, Brock used Quality Improvement (QI) methodology to test and implement a web-based decision-aid tool for patients. While working on the project with Dr. Sarah Corathers of the hospital’s Endocrinology Department, Brock understood the benefits of QI and academic research. “Quality Improvement consists of systematic and continuous actions that lead to measurable improvement in healthcare services and the health status of targeted patient groups,” shared Brock, who hopes to attend the GWU Physician Assistant (PA) Studies program after earning his undergraduate degree in exercise science.

I came to the internship confident in my basic understanding of the research process. I have been taught the basics of patient care and safety which helped me throughout the summer. Dr. Hartman reminded me to remain confident and vocal throughout my experience. This helped me grow and take in the great opportunity I was given. I never spent a day there feeling like I was working. It was an honor to soak in all of the knowledge and to be inspired by other passionate healthcare professionals.

Anna Burgess, HSON '16

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Anna Burgess (’16) of Ellenboro, N.C., went into the nursing field because of her interest in studying science, anatomy and the disease process. As she started her college search, the Hunt School of Nursing at Gardner-Webb University appealed to her for a couple of reasons. “I knew I wanted a bachelor’s degree,” she shared. “But I liked the idea that I could complete my ADN (Associate Degree in Nursing) and start working while completing my BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). This was a rare option. I was also drawn to GWU, because I could get the full college experience just 30 minutes from home.”

She received a scholarship and lived on campus, earning her ADN in 2006. She began working as a nurse full time and completed her BSN in 2007.

When she decided to obtain her Master of Science in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) Concentration, again the GWU program fit her needs. “I was interested in the part-time format that would allow me to continue working while in school,” she assessed. Two months before she graduated with her FNP, Burgess was offered a position in a family care practice.

Classes at GWU gave me a core knowledge to build upon in the clinical environment,” Burgess observed. “Classes such as pathophysiology, pharmacology, and health assessment provided the basic knowledge I needed to begin to provide care to my patients.

Charity Byrum, MSOT, EXSI '15

Photo of Charity Byrum, '15, MSOT

Coming into college, I was working to narrow my major choice and deciding between a biology or health and wellness route, looking to pursue a career in occupational therapy. It was during this time that I first learned about the Exercise Science major.

Throughout the Exercise Science program, I was challenged to think beyond the surface and make my learning my own. I was able to create learning experiences beyond the traditional classroom. Because I had numerous AP and college credits coming into GWU, during my senior year I only required a few more credits to graduate, which left me with two choices: to sit back for an easy schedule or to further my learning in Exercise Science creatively. Knowing graduate school for occupational therapy was my goal, I decided on the latter and worked with exercise science faculty to create a practicum experience as a teaching assistant for Exercise Physiology Lab as well as an undergraduate research project for the following year. These two experiences stand out to me as some of the most formative in my educational career. As a teaching assistant, I grew immensely in the ability to communicate scientific information and work with students to achieve their goals and potential. I was able to tailor my research project to my future career and present my research at the Alpha Chi National Scholarship Honor Society annual convention.

The impact that the Exercise Science program has made on my life have been most evident to me as I have transitioned to working toward my Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree this past year. By strategically guiding me and my classmates to the path and empowering us to take the initiative in our scholarship, the Exercise Science program created the foundation for graduate level learning and beyond. I feel strongly that this personal, academic, and professional growth have shaped me into the person I am today.

Jordan Davis, EXSI '17

Photo of Jordan DavisMore than 600 students applied to the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Mercer University in Atlanta, Ga. Jordan Davis, a 2017 graduate of Gardner-Webb University, was one of 38 who were accepted. “I credit my very quick admission (same day as my interview) to the unique and thorough preparation the GWU Exercise Science program provided,” Davis related. “I feel as though I stood out among the others who were selected to interview due to two major aspects: 1) the rigorous coursework on my transcript and 2) the heavy emphasis my major professors placed on developing ‘soft skills’ for professional success.”

Those “soft skills” include being able to communicate well, collaborate with others on a project, and solve a problem. “I attended etiquette dinners, participated in mock interviews, frequently presented complex ideas to peers, and practiced elevator speeches,” Davis expounded. “These experiences made it easy to transition through all three phases of my interview at Mercer with confidence.”

One of the most difficult courses for Davis was exercise physiology, especially the lab portion. “I remember being handed a sheet with about 10 columns of different numbers with abbreviations at the top,” she described. “I also remember the horror of having to turn those metabolic cart readings into a 10 to 15 page lab report. Through that experience I learned how to be resourceful and properly navigate academic journals. Being able to filter through jargon and find what was most beneficial for my purposes was a must. When I came through that course, I was a completely different student.”

Our department places [high expectations] on students and our ability to meet exceptional standards. Even though I’m not exactly sure what obstacles lie ahead as I continue my education, I know that I can meet any requirement through persistence, passion and dedication. I am secure in this fact because of my experiences here at Gardner-Webb.

Ashley Frady, HSON '17

Photo of Ashley Frady

After spending over a year preparing for medical school, Ashley Frady (’17) of Gastonia, N.C., sensed a calling to missions and the nursing field. “The Lord really began to speak to me. I realized that I enjoyed caring for people and building relationships with them in some of their most desperate times,” Frady recalled. “I searched for ‘top nursing programs in the southeast,’ and Gardner-Webb was the first on the list.”

She visited the campus, learned about the Hunt School of Nursing and discovered the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) suited her educational needs. “Gardner-Webb accommodated both my desire to commute and the flexibility I needed with clinical times and lecture schedules,” she affirmed. “I was also very attracted to the small class sizes and the ability to build relationships with classmates and teachers.”

In all of her classes, Frady appreciated the way the nursing faculty shared their own experiences with students.

[The faculty] made me feel comfortable and capable to achieve my dreams to be a nurse someday. I value their authenticity more than anything else, because it shows they are real people who have walked in my shoes and are able to empathize with me.

Hollis Guenther, HSON '19

Photo of Hollis Guenther

Gardner-Webb University graduate nursing student Hollis Guenther (’19) remembers listening to war stories told by his father and his neighbors in the small Michigan farming community where he grew up. On Veteran’s Day as he prepares for deployment to the Persian Gulf, he thinks about their service in World War II and the Korean War and is filled with appreciation for these men. Joining the Army Reserves helped him pay for college, but it also allowed him to honor their sacrifices.

He left the reserves when he graduated from college, but decided to rejoin the North Carolina Air National Guard as a flight nurse performing aeromedical evacuation. “I had always wanted to do something bigger than myself,” reflected Guenther, a resident of Catawba, N.C. “I talked with some guys at work about how much they enjoyed being flight nurses, and then after Hurricane Katrina, I felt like I just had to do it.”

He enrolled in the GWU Hunt School of Nursing for similar reasons. He is pursuing his Master of Science in Nursing, Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) concentration to be able to do more to help people. “I’d love to be able to do mission trips in Third World countries,” he offered.

I found everyone to be very helpful and willing to work with me as I face several obstacles in doing an online program while deployed overseas. They are really concerned with helping me make the most of my experience.

Jared Barton, PA Studies '19

Photo of Jared Barton

Jared Barton ‘19 ended his Army service after five years. Instead of dealing with the casualties of war, he wanted to do something to improve the lives of others. “I loved the Army for what it is and does, the friendships I made, but I spent five years - and that’s not very long compared to some of my friends who are still in - training to kill enemy combatants,” reflected Barton, a student in the Physician Assistant Studies Program at Gardner-Webb University. “I decided it was time to change up the mission statement, get on the other side of the equation. In the PA field, I get to be a part of another team, forge new friendships and help people in their time of need. It’s a phenomenal profession that affords opportunities to live out and share my faith with others right where I am.”

He entered Lee University in his hometown, Cleveland, Tenn., and earned a bachelor’s degree in health sciences. He worked in campus security with a GWU graduate. “I told him I was applying to PA programs, and he mentioned that I should take a look at Gardner-Webb,” Barton related. “I hadn’t heard of Gardner-Webb’s PA program, mainly because I was looking at schools closer to my hometown. My wife had a good job in our hometown, and I was applying to PA programs around an hour away. After visiting GWU, my mind was made up.”

I don’t think you will be disappointed. The campus is beautiful and it provides a great atmosphere for studying. The smaller class sizes give students more opportunity to speak with professors one-on-one. The program faculty and staff are phenomenal and make themselves available for students.

Adam Benfield, PA Studies '16

Photo of Adam Benfield

When Adam Benfield ’16 of Hickory, N.C., began looking at schools for Physician Assistant (PA) Studies, Gardner-Webb University was at the top of the list. A native of Fallston, N.C., Benfield had attended a larger university for his undergraduate degree but wanted the “hometown feel of a small campus and small class sizes for graduate school,” he shared.

He became a member of GWU’s first class of PA students and as he got to know his professors and classmates, he was grateful for the opportunity. “The individualized care you receive at Gardner-Webb is far and above the most valued part of my experience,” Benfield observed. “Each professor brings different background experiences, knowledge, and approaches to learning and medicine, which mesh to create the perfect environment to push each student to achieve his or her maximum potential and beyond. Each professor knows you by name and, particularly in the PA program, you spend so much time with the professors that they will know you almost better than you know yourself. Given this, there is no lack of available professors to write references for you once you graduate and begin looking for work.”

Benfield works in a family medicine practice, seeing patients of all ages. Being a PA combines his two interests. “I've always been intrigued by science and driven by the desire to understand the world around me,” he assessed. “I've also been compassionate and caring. The rigorous academic studies and science combined with the ability to manage my own patients once I graduated led me to choose the PA profession. Family medicine gives me a broad range of experiences and is not limited to one specialty or one body system, which keeps my job interesting as well as academically engaging.”

The PA studies classes provide the base knowledge you need to succeed in a career as a PA, and the Gardner-Webb faculty instills a desire in each student to never stop learning.