news-category: Bulldog Profiles

Gardner-Webb Alumnus Received Friendship, Opportunities and Support to Manage Autism and Accomplish His Goals

A collage featuring photos of Will Braunlich, from left, as Mac the Bulldog, in the WGWG studio, and with his friends

Broadcast Journalism Major, Will Braunlich, ’20, Hosts Movie Review Show on Community TV

With the education and opportunities he received at Gardner-Webb University, alumnus, Will Braunlich, ’20, does what he loves. He is the host of a movie review show that airs on the local cable TV in Simsbury, Conn., and on YouTube. He also recently started a job as a paraprofessional in the special education department at the local middle school.

Braunlich earned a degree in broadcast journalism and worked as an announcer at WGWG.org, Gardner-Webb’s official radio station. “I wanted to go into broadcast journalism, because I love telling stories,” he offered. “I want to share the stories of the world and help inspire people. I also love playing music and talking to people, whether directly or indirectly, which is where I’ve grown a huge passion for radio.”

Additionally, Braunlich worked with a retail company where he used his communication skills to teach children robotics, coding and engineering. This experience led him to consider the job at the middle school. “I think with what I do right now and how I was a special education student myself, I believe I am a good fit for this role,” he observed. “One of my main inspirations is Brad Cohen, he has Tourette’s Syndrome like I do, and his life goal was to be a teacher. A lot of schools turned him down, but one gave him a chance looking past his disability. He taught me to never give up, and that I can do anything that anyone else can do. I truly believe this will be a most rewarding experience.”

He and his family discovered Gardner-Webb while searching for schools in the south. “I’ve always wanted to go to a school in the south,” he explained. “The first time we visited, we probably spent five or six hours there during the summer. When we came back, students were there, and we got to see homecoming weekend and a big football game. After that weekend, I made my choice, and it was arguably the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Will Braunlich, in back as Mac, celebrates the men’s basketball Big South Championship in 2019 and entry into the NCAA tournament.

Not only did he gain hands-on experience in broadcasting, he also had a chance to play Mac, the GWU costumed mascot when the men’s basketball team made the program’s first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 2019. “It was an experience unlike any other, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” Braunlich reflected. “The best part of being Mac is, without a doubt, interacting with fans of all ages—from students, to alumni to citizens of the area. It was a humbling and rewarding experience knowing I got to be part of something really neat.”

Additionally, Gardner-Webb provided the support that Braunlich needed as he managed college life while living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. “The Noel Center really helped me in getting the accommodations I needed, and they were really good in reaching out to the professors,” he shared. “The people at the Noel Center always check up on you, making sure everything is going well with both academics and other things going on. They were also great with the social group I got to be a part of, playing games, watching movies and making new friends.”

While April is designated Autism Awareness and Acceptance month, Braunlich said people who are on the Autism spectrum want daily understanding, friendship and support. “What I want people to know is that I would like to be treated like everyone else,” he asserted. “No special treatment, just talk to me like I’m your friend, family member, coworker, or classmate.”

Braunlich added, “Being on the Spectrum is definitely challenging, as we are introduced to new experiences. However, I’ve learned I can do anything that anyone else can do and to not let anything get in the way of me doing what I really want to do in life. A disability doesn’t define who you are, it’s all about the kind of person you become.”

He also offers the following advice for all college students. “The one thing I learned the most while at Gardner-Webb is don’t be afraid to ask for help,” he affirmed. “Whether it be a professor, a fellow classmate or anyone on campus, they will do everything they can to help and make everything better. I asked for help numerous times and it helped me when it came to studying for tests, working on group projects or even figuring out what activities to do.”

Braunlich continued, “My advice is go above and beyond in classes and outside of that as well. Set up weekly meetings with your professors so you can go over what you do and don’t understand. Make appointments for tutoring or with the writing center, because all of those will help in the long run. Also, try and go out and engage in activities, that’s how you’ll meet people and create relationships that will last a lifetime.”

You can find Branlich’s movie reviews on Simsbury Community Media or on the YouTube channel.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to six professional schools, 14 academic departments, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at Gardner-Webb.edu.

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