news-category: Summer Enrichment Programs

Gardner-Webb Hosts Science Academy with Grant from Stonecutter Foundation

High School Students Explore Branches of Science in the Lab and On the Job

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—The 11 high school students who recently attended the Science Academy at Gardner-Webb University experienced a variety of hands-on activities in five days. The camp introduced them to biotechnology, forensics, physician assistant studies, physiology, chemistry, and exercise science. They also toured Rutherford County (N.C.) Sheriff’s Forensics Department, Cohesion Phenomics, a DNA lab in Spindale, N.C., and Rutherford Regional Health System.

Students in the Science Academy test equipment in the
Human Performance Lab at the College of Health Sciences.

A grant from the Stonecutter Foundation in Rutherford County helps keep the cost down for participants. Instructors are Assistant Professor of Biology Jay Zimmer and Jill Francis, instructional coach for Rutherford County Schools and a former teacher at Chase High School. This year, they were assisted by GWU alumna Haley Bright and Katie Vassey, a recent graduate of Rutherford Early College High School in Spindale, N.C.

Vassey plans to attend Gardner-Webb in the fall and major in biology with a biomedical sciences concentration. She participated in the camp last year, and because she learned so much, she contacted Zimmer early in the year to ask if she could volunteer this summer. “I loved all the parts of it, especially the biological side of things,” she noted. “I like the microscopes and the electrophoresis.”

Helping mentor the students gave Vassey a deeper appreciation of the work that Zimmer and Francis put into providing the summer experience. “It’s incredible what they do,” she praised.

Bright, of Claremont, N.C., graduated from Gardner-Webb in 2022 and has helped with the Science Academy in the past. Her full-time job as a medical assistant takes her away from a lab setting, so she enjoys using her vacation days to help students with the activities and set up the equipment.

Jane Gonzales, a senior at Rutherford Early College High School in Spindale, N.C., decided to attend this summer to explore different STEM careers. One of her favorite events of the week was learning about the Department of Physician Assistant (PA) Studies at Gardner-Webb.

The ninth- through 11th-grade students who attended have career goals related to science. The majority want to work in the medical field: anesthesiologist, nurse, oncologist, pharmacist, paramedic, pediatric nurse, sports medicine, and psychologist. One wants to be in law enforcement.

Maddyn Bright, a student at the Master’s Academy in Forest City, N.C., enjoyed learning more about the branches of science and how they are used in forensics, biotechnology and healthcare. While she talked, the other students at her table were examining hair under a microscope to determine who killed the butterflies in the fictional case they were working to solve.

Grant Roberts also attends the Master’s Academy. While he also liked the hands-on activities, his main reason for coming was to learn more about the PA program. “I found out a lot of information that was good for me to know,” he said. “It helped me, and the teachers gave me their emails to talk to them, to ask questions.”

2024 Science Academy Participants

Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy

  • Samariah Florient
  • Grace Christman
  • Yaahri Whyte

East Rutherford

  • Molly Randolph

Pinnacle Classical Academy (Shelby, N.C.)

  • Evie Hawkins
  • Kate Saravia
  • Lillian Wellmon

Master’s Academy

  • Grant Roberts
  • Maddyn Bright

REACH (Rutherford Early College High School)

  • Lily Gait
  • Jane Gonzales

For an overview of the week in photos, check out the Science Academy Facebook Page here.

About The Stonecutter Foundation:

The Foundation has sponsored the science academy at GWU since 2014. The Foundation, a non-profit established in 1945, has invested in numerous Rutherford County community institutions such as the town library and Isothermal Community College. Since its inception, the foundation has invested millions into the surrounding community.

About Gardner-Webb:

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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