news-category: Academics

Joe Waller Receives Full-Tuition Scholarship From the GWU School of Divinity

Joe Waller is congratulated by Dr. Paula Qualls.
Dr. Paula Qualls congratulates Joe Waller after the scholarship presentation.

2023 Graduate Pursues Dual Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling and Divinity

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—After graduating in May 2023 with a psychology degree from Gardner-Webb University, Joe Waller enrolled in the School of Divinity. He is pursuing a dual degree—the Master of Mental Health Counseling and Master of Divinity. Waller, who minored in biblical studies, is the 2023 recipient of the Dean’s Fellow Scholarship Award, given annually by the GWU School of Divinity.

Each year, the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy selects a graduate of the program to receive the full-tuition scholarship for the complete course of study in the Master of Divinity degree at Gardner-Webb. Both majors and minors from the department are eligible. The recipients, known as “Dean’s Fellows,” are chosen for exceptional academic performance and call to ministry.

Dr. Paula Qualls, professor of religious studies, presented the scholarship. “Joe is quite an amazing young man,” she praised. “He is one of the most kind, empathetic and patient young adults I have ever met.”

Waller, who is from Shelby, N.C., chose to stay at Gardner-Webb because of his undergraduate experience and the impact the school had on his brother and sister-in-law. “I saw how my brother and sister-in-law not only obtained knowledge, but gained the tools to love people well,” Waller shared. “I felt that God wanted me to challenge myself through divinity school. I knew it was a very supportive environment, and I wanted to give myself a chance to have a life-changing experience. Gardner-Webb is full of wonderful people who truly care about one another.”

The Master of Divinity/Master of Arts in clinical mental health counseling dual degree integrates theology, faith and spirituality with counseling theory and clinical experience in the mental health field. The divinity portion provides advanced education in biblical studies, spiritual formation and ministry. The counseling program combines professional, skill and applied components to prepare graduates for effective work as a mental health counselor.

Waller’s undergraduate classes gave him a solid foundation to serve the young people at his church. He also believes the dual divinity degree—along with his position as part-time youth pastor at Zion Baptist Church in Shelby—will help him become a better counselor by broadening his perspective and growing his own relationship with God. “I like that ministry encourages me to look introspectively at myself every day and provides opportunities to give (others) the same tools that have been helpful for me,” Waller asserted.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, 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

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