Successful Students and Alumni

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.

Haden Baker, EXSI '17

Photo of Haden BakerHaden Baker finished his exercise science internship the summer before his senior year at Gardner-Webb University. Working at a fitness center in Morganton, N.C., he applied the principles and skills he had learned from his professors. “The internship experience was probably the most rewarding class that I completed at GWU,” observed the 2017 graduate. “I got a chance to work with some great people and along with that, show off some of the knowledge I had learned from my class work. My site supervisor and manager said I was the most well-prepared and knowledgeable intern they had worked with in 10-plus years. That is not only a representation of me personally, but the exercise science program as a whole.”

The diverse curriculum introduces students to a variety of topics, including exercise testing and prescription, strength and conditioning, exercise programming for special populations and kinesiology. “My journey through the exercise science program at Gardner-Webb has been filled with challenging, but fulfilling coursework that has made me a better individual,” Baker acknowledged. “I have grown intellectually as well as professionally and most of all, I am proud to have matured as a person.”

Because his internship supervisors were impressed with his work, they offered him a full-time job as an exercise physiologist. “I feel so proud and honored to be a part of the team at the fitness center, but I cannot forget how I got here,” Baker affirmed. “If it had not been for my time at GWU, I would not have had the opportunity to be here in the first place.”

I have learned so much from [my] classes and they have prepared me for my future profession as an exercise physiologist. Through various assignments, I have become familiar with both the ACSM and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) concepts and techniques.

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.

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.

Gabby Cortese, EXSI '18

Photo of Gabby CorteseGabby Cortese ’18 of Palm Bay, Fla., is the middle child of nine. When it came time for her to consider colleges, she didn’t want to follow in her older siblings’ footsteps. “I felt the Lord calling me to take a leap of faith and look for a college out of state,” Cortese stated. “I narrowed my search to the Southeast, because I wanted to be able to personally visit the college. Gardner-Webb University was one of the top results that came up. Its small town, community-oriented feel and evident Christian atmosphere intrigued me.”

As she learned more about Gardner-Webb, Cortese became sure it was the place for her. She was also offered a place on the cross country and track teams. Her next step was to declare a major that would help her reach her goal of attending medical school. “Growing up in a big family, I saw and experienced a lot of surgeries, illnesses and different injuries—broken bones, scrapes, bruises, dislocations, tears, etc.,” Cortese shared. “Also, I love to try and fix things, particularly with my hands. The medical field interests me as it is searching for and further developing the knowledge and skills to fix things with one’s hands and to make someone’s health better. My dream job in the medical field will involve me helping others to live at their fullest potential where their bodies are healthy.”

I wanted my studies to be people-centered, focusing on human anatomy and physiology. Exercise Science met all of those criteria and more. I quickly realized that I had found a study in which I was excited to come to class to increase my knowledge. Rather than seeing deadlines and useless busy work, I began to see my assignments as opportunities to further my interests, to discover new knowledge, and to further develop my skills as a future medical professional.

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.

Lauren Dunn Smith, EXSI '16

Photo of Lauren DunnI am in my second semester in the Master of Science Occupational Therapy program at Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, a nine-semester program that examines pediatrics through older adults as well as placing a heavy emphasis on research. 

GWU has helped me in so many ways. The course load I had in the Exercise Science Pre-Professional Concentration provided a great foundation of knowledge that I use in graduate school. The seminar class at GWU allowed me to understand the process of undergoing research. The Exercise Science faculty were excellent mentors that helped me when I conducted research regarding Fitbits and Apple watches. I am also very thankful for having Kinesiology, as it gave me an advantage over my peers in the OT program.

What really helped me prepare for graduate school interviews were the mock interviews and the professional image dinner required of all Exercise Science majors. I learned a lot about etiquette and how to communicate my best assets. Overall, the curriculum and experiences I had at GWU helped me feel prepared for graduate school and I am very grateful to be an alumna.

AJ Francioni, DPT candidate, EXSI '15

Photo of A.J. FrancioniThe first time Alexandra Joy “AJ” Francioni (’15) visited Gardner-Webb University, she found something she didn’t expect. Interested in the University’s new exercise science major, Francioni discovered that a city girl from Chicago, Ill., could feel right at home in Boiling Springs, N.C.

“Gardner-Webb offers more than just an exceptional education; it offers many life skills as well,” she observed. “The Career Services Office offers resume and interview workshops throughout the year and is always available for a private appointment. I have also been a part of a Leadership Advisory Committee in Student Activities that has taught me how to create an effective team and focus on each member’s strengths. Our Exercise Science program has a core value of service, and I have been able to make connections and grow as a person through involvement with the National Senior Games athletic competition and Chemistry Honors Society’s Bulldog Backpacks program to provide food for children in need.”

Since receiving her degree in exercise science, Francioni works at Duke Sports Medicine in Durham and has accepted a position in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Doctorate of Physical Therapy program. She is confident in her professional ability and also feels prepared for graduate studies.

Exercise Science is a major built upon the need to cater to students’ future careers, especially the Pre-Professional track, which has a diverse arrangement of core classes that match the pre-requisites for physical therapy school. It has offered me the opportunity to do research projects and write a thesis. The Exercise Science department has a wing in the School of Health Sciences, which has various equipment to study physiology and the effects of exercise on the body.

Danielle Marshall, EXSI '12

Photo of Danielle MarshallDanielle Marshall chose to practice medicine, because she wanted a career dedicated to serving people. "Being a doctor is the most supreme opportunity to show compassion," she stressed.

The 2012 Gardner-Webb University graduate reached her goals with the help of her professors in the Department of Exercise Science (formerly health and wellness) and the Department of Natural Sciences. She graduates soon from The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) in Blacksburg, Va., and will begin her residency at the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Medical Center Susquehanna Family Medicine Residency Program in Williamsport, Pa.

The classes I took as prerequisites for medical school were very important for the building blocks of my medical education. Not only were they important for my entrance exams into medical school, but anatomy, physiology, and microbiology are continued themes. The health and wellness curriculum additionally provided classes in nutrition, exercise physiology, and program planning, which are useful on a more practical level for patient care.

Kristina Nork, EXSI '16

Photo of Kristina NorkAfter she graduated from Gardner-Webb University, Kristina Nork will have more than a certificate to hang on the wall. She will carry with her all the life lessons she’s gained as a student, an athlete and a follower of Christ.

A native of Parkland, Fla., Nork came to Gardner-Webb because she was looking for a NCAA Division I swimming program at a Christian university. From the first visit, she had a feeling Gardner-Webb was the right choice.

“My intent with an exercise science degree is to make my way into the coaching, strength and conditioning world to help athletes be the best they can be, both in and out of their sport,” she noted. “Being able to see the happiness in people when they see improvements in their health, fitness, or their sport, no matter their skill level, is a feeling that I love having. Knowing that I could have a small part in the joy in someone’s life because of the knowledge I have attained through my exercise science degree is something that I look forward to experiencing regularly.”

Faculty in the School of Preventive and Rehabilitative Health Sciences have been a constant source of encouragement to her and others. Nork describes the atmosphere in the classroom as family-like, where students are allowed to talk about class assignments along with events happening in the world and in their lives.

“They teach class material, but heavily emphasize being able to transfer this information to real life, which I think is most important,” she affirmed. “Class discussions occur daily, which I think is rare, especially in science classes. They also encourage us to conceptually understand topics. The faculty helps us to be our best by pushing us to figure out hard problems on our own, but are always there to correct, explain, and work with us on subjects, even if it’s not a class they teach themselves.”

Being at Gardner-Webb has helped shaped me into the person I am today through my experiences in the pool, the classroom and the strong Christian atmosphere. I am encouraged to decide what I believe to be true and have learned to defend my opinions while relying on truth and my knowledge to back me up. Putting all aspects of life together at Gardner-Webb, I am fully convinced that I am prepared to be successful in life because of the impact the people and programs at Gardner-Webb have had on me.”

Mary O'Doherty, EXSI '15

Photo of Mary O'DohertyWhen Mary O’Doherty graduated with her exercise science degree from Gardner-Webb University in 2015, she had nine days to transition to graduate school. She was excited to begin the next part of her educational journey. “Gardner Webb helped me get there by giving me a supportive environment of professors, coaches and peers who helped me prepare academically and personally to be accepted into physical therapy school and handle the stresses of school once I was accepted,” assessed O’Doherty, a native of Charlotte, N.C. “My professors, Dr. Jeff Hartman specifically, worked with me before I was even in the exercise science program to help me plan out my college courses to put me in the best possible position to apply for physical therapy school on time.”

The anatomy and physiology courses she took at Gardner-Webb prepared her for the more extensive anatomy courses in the physical therapy doctoral program at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. She also gained practical experience by studying in the GWU exercise physiology lab, competing on the GWU Swim Team and serving as founder and president of the Exercise Science Club.

I had a wonderful understanding of human anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology, kinesiology, clinical relevance regarding exercise prescription and testing, and many interpersonal skills that cannot be learned from a book. The seminar class I took as a part of my exercise science major required that we went to the mock interviews held annually by Gardner-Webb. These turned out to be one of the most helpful experiences, because they prepared me for my physical therapy school interview, which is the most important part of the application process.

Anna Pashkova, EXSI '16

Photo of Anna PashkovaMajoring in exercise science at Gardner-Webb University gave Anna Pashkova (’16) an opportunity to explore a variety of health-related careers before deciding on the one that was right for her. Because the program incorporates biology, chemistry and psychology, most of the pre-requisites for graduate school are covered.

Pashkova, of Iowa City, Iowa, was a member of the Gardner-Webb University volleyball team, earning academic and athletic honors from the Big South Conference.

She also believes taking classes in the University’s liberal arts general requirements has helped develop her interpersonal skills. “One of the most beneficial things about the liberal arts foundation is being able to communicate to almost anyone about a variety of topics,” she affirmed. “This is especially true when dealing with co-workers and patients, who can come from many different backgrounds. It also teaches critical thinking skills and the ability to view issues from different points of view and to work together with a wide variety of people.”

With advice from the faculty and her studies, Pashkova has narrowed down and pinpointed her career interests. She has chosen to pursue a master’s in nutrition and work toward becoming a registered dietitian.

Exercise science also allowed me to focus on learning primarily about the human body and to apply biology and chemistry concepts to real-life scenarios in the everyday and active lives of people. Adding a chemistry minor to this major only required three more chemistry courses and opened doors to an ever greater variety of graduate schools and future careers.

Taylar Pridgen, EXSI '15

Photo of Taylar PridgenTaylar Pridgen of Thomasville, N.C., ended her college search after one visit to Gardner-Webb University. The school had everything she wanted: a quality education, the chance to play softball and a close-knit community. “Once I visited the small campus and met the individuals there, I knew that it was home,” Pridgen affirmed. “I made some amazing friends and mentors and some even better memories.”

She majored in exercise science, because the curriculum combined her passion for fitness with her interest in studying human anatomy. After graduating in 2015, she began working in a gym. She loved using her degree, but seeing the dedication of the bodybuilders made her realize she missed competing in sports. “I felt that bodybuilding could be my new sport, my new drive and something to work for outside of work,” Pridgen reflected. “I have a healthier lifestyle and great friends. The bodybuilding community is growing, but it’s also a very tight one. We all respect each other and we don’t judge one another because we all have the same goal—to better ourselves.”

She’s training to obtain a “pro card” from the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness (IFBB). Earning the card qualifies her to participate in national bodybuilding competitions.

While Pridgen enjoys the sport, she wanted something more from her career and decided to pursue nursing school. The field gives her more opportunities to serve people. “I wanted to be the person who helps them through some of their most difficult times,” she shared. She will be working as a nurse in the intensive care unit at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, N.C., and plans to obtain an advanced nursing degree.

I thoroughly enjoy the gym and the peace of mind it brings me. I love to bring my exercise science knowledge to the table for this sport, by doing body fat percentages on myself and others. Oftentimes, we have to burn off fat quickly, and we also have to maintain muscle mass.

London Schumacher, EXSI '18

Photo of London SchumacherLondon Schumacher (’18) admits she’s somewhat nerdy when it comes to studying anatomy and physiology. The Waynesville, N.C., native is majoring in exercise science to prepare for Physician Assistant (PA) school. One of her favorite classes has been Motor Behavior taught by Dr. Jeff Hartman, associate professor of exercise science at Gardner-Webb University. “I have learned an incredible amount of knowledge about the body and movement as a whole,” Schumacher said. “I still brag about that class to anyone who will listen.”

She’s also discovered that she likes studying chemistry and how it relates to the medical field.

A member of the GWU Women’s Swim Team, Schumacher chose GWU over several other colleges because of its small class sizes, the recommendation of a friend and reputation of swim coach Mike Simpson. “I felt as though God was pulling me towards GWU,” she reflected. “Everything about it was great—the small class sizes, the beautiful campus, the amazing swim team, and an environment that supported my faith.”

Medicine is a combination of chemical compounds and those class experiences have allowed me to understand why medicines react differently. Also the chemistry department is filled with brilliant people. They make it much easier to learn and love the subject.

Matt Skeen, EXSI '07

Photo of Matt SkeenIn 12 seconds, a six-member NASCAR pit crew can empty two 12-gallon gas cans, weighing 81 pounds each, change four tires and make minor adjustments to the car. Matt Skeen, a 2007 graduate of Gardner-Webb University, is one of the trainers who prepares the crew for the physical demands of the job.

Skeen majored in health and wellness (now exercise science) and played football at GWU. Between his junior and senior year at Gardner-Webb, Skeen interned for Hendrick Motorsports (HMS) in Charlotte, N.C. 

The summer internship opened the door for a full-time job training the pit crews for drivers Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliot. In the 10 years since he joined HMS, Skeen has been a part of six NASCAR Sprint Cup titles, one X-Finity Championship, one All-Star Pit Crew Championship and two Mechanix Wear Pit Crews of the Year. “My responsibilities include assisting the head strength and conditioning coach, administration and promotion in all aspects of the strength and conditioning program,” Skeen explained. “Specifically, I design and implement strength protocols, instruction, supervision and evaluation of all pit crew members. I make sure they are strong, fast and flexible enough to perform their duties around the racecar as fast as possible.”

Besides preparing him for his career, Gardner-Webb was a place where he developed friendships that are still important in his life today. “You cannot help but build new, strong friendships while on campus at GWU,” Skeen assessed. “As a member of the Alumni Board of Directors, I continuously hear about people and friendships that alumni take away as top experiences from GWU. Gardner-Webb is not just a University, it is a small, close-knit community. You are not just a number. Professors, staff and students know each other by name. There are no limits at GWU. Academically, spiritually and athletically, Gardner-Webb can offer you everything you need to get to the next step in your life.”

The classes I took at GWU prepared me to enter the workforce with a strong base knowledge allowing me to implement things I had learned into daily tasks. I also felt equipped to pursue post-graduate certifications to maintain and advance my position within the company.

Seaver Wait, EXSI '17

Photo of Seaver WaitSeaver Wait ’17 stepped out of his comfort zone several times while working on his exercise science degree at Gardner-Webb University. Each situation was a chance for Wait to strengthen his critical-thinking skills.

“My professors, Dr. Jeff Hartman and Dr. David Granniss, taught me how to think at a high level,” observed Wait of Candler, N.C. “Whether it was tests, lectures, labs, reports, or practical experiences, I used every scrap of knowledge to develop a comprehensive thought. I also value the professional experience the program provided. I learned how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and it helped me flourish into a skillful graduate. My professional presence in front of an audience improved astronomically, along with my interview skills and competence to work with other people in a clinical setting.”

Confident in his education and academic abilities, Wait applied for and has been accepted into a civilian specialty position with the Navy in the aerospace and operational physiology division. “My studies— particularly my Exercise Physiology and Exercise Prescription classes—have provided me with the in-depth knowledge base required to work as an aerospace physiologist.” Wait affirmed. “These classes required extensive preparation, self-assessment, and adjustment throughout—all of which are commonly found in any workplace environment. Not only was preparation and practice of the material vital throughout the courses, but also self-reflection as to where to adjust and improve as a student.”

I’ve had an interest in space exploration my entire life, but that interest peaked my junior year of college. I read books about space and space theory and became interested in relating the knowledge and experience I gained within the exercise science major to those concepts. I did more research and found that NASA and other various sectors had already started exploring the topics, so that became my goal.

Catherine White, EXSI '17

Photo of Catherine WhiteTwo factors affected Catherine White’s decision to attend Gardner-Webb University. She wanted to play tennis for a Division I school in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and she liked the atmosphere on campus. “The size of the school really allows you to get to know the people around you, and truly create a community,” she reflected.

The Rock Hill, S.C., native’s goal was to become a Physician Assistant (PA). She chose to major in exercise science to prepare for graduate school. Being in the small classes at GWU gave her opportunities to collaborate with her classmates and seek help from her professors. “Students get to know the students around them and work as a team to learn tough material,” White observed.

When she graduated in 2017, she also celebrated acceptance into the PA program at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. She was ready for this next step for several reasons. Her exercise science courses combined academic content with resume workshops and other career readiness opportunities. She developed leadership skills by serving on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and helping to start a chapter of Delight College Women’s Ministry. She gained laboratory experience in organic chemistry, microbiology and biochemistry.

“I also shadowed professionals in the field I intended to go into, logged hours of service learning and participated in many other opportunities,” White assessed. “These helped me grow as a professional while still learning the ins and outs of exercise science.”

In addition to preparing her academically and professionally, Gardner-Webb also gave her a support network. “GWU is a special place—the Lord is working through the professors, faculty, coaches, and students,” she affirmed. “The people you meet at GWU will become your family. Professors and faculty will become your mentors, and you will cherish your time spent there.”

The exercise science professors—Dr. Jeff Hartman and Dr. David Granniss—were always willing to meet me at any time, even in the summers, to mentor and guide my path. They push you out of your comfort zone and lift you up to a new level. It is very evident they truly want their students to succeed in their classes, as well as the real world.