news-category: Student Success

New Gardner-Webb UNIV 111 Class Includes Mentoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

First-Year Experience Course Supported by a Grant from North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Groups of three or four students work quietly at long tables in a Gardner-Webb University UNIV 111 class. They examine tiny plastic pieces—the parts to a solar-powered robot—and study the instructions to determine how the piece fits into the machine. While the UNIV 111 program introduces first-year students to college life and promotes personal and academic development, this section taught by Assistant Professor of biology Susan Manahan also has an emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) through activities and mentors. Working on the robot not only develops critical-thinking skills, it gives the students an opportunity to develop relationships.

Gardner-Webb’s Student Success Division developed this new course with a grant from North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) to support a STEM Student-Faculty Mentoring Program. The Student Success staff devised a plan to implement the grant through the first-year experience course and asked Manahan to be the grant coordinator and lead the program.

Kara Alves, director of Success Initiatives and First-Year Experience, appreciates how Manahan has approached the opportunity to help students transition to life at GWU through the lens of STEM and career preparedness. “I am grateful for her willingness to go above and beyond in helping these students succeed as she impacts their first-year experience,” Alves praised. “Manahan’s class sets the tone for future opportunities as we continue to seek ways to creatively support our first-year student population.”

The students also work with tangram puzzles to create
different shapes.

Manahan does several supplemental activities for the class, such as organizing mentorship opportunities for students, equipping them with tools to succeed in their STEM-related courses, helping them develop a scientific identity, and providing them with resources to explore careers in STEM and STEM-adjacent fields.

“We spent some time specifically focused on how to study STEM classes and how important practice is for mastery of topics,” Manahan shared. “We began this topic by discussing an article about failure being a prerequisite for success in science. Failure occurs in research, experiments, and sometimes when learning STEM topics. We continued the discussion about study skills with an activity on measuring enthusiasm or passion and endurance or perseverance. We mentioned the use of lap whiteboards to practice when studying for tests. We discuss how to analyze and change study habits to be more successful.”

Computer science major Addi Avellaneda said that being in a UNIV 111 class with STEM majors is giving him study tools that will prepare him for the challenging classes he will take for his degree. “I definitely appreciate the fact that they take the time to help you and give you tips towards the beginning of the year with settling into the college life and giving you tips on how to study and prepare for exams or just studying in general,” he reflected.

Rain Bronson, a biology major who wants to pursue a medical degree, said Manahan and Jackson gave her helpful advice about what courses to take while she’s at Gardner-Webb that will also provide a solid foundation for graduate school. “I really like this class, because I feel like I would be lost without it,” she shared.

Peer Leader Kyndal Jackson helps a group of students put the robot together.

Peer Leader Kyndal Jackson, a biology major with biomedical concentration, provides additional support to help the first-year students adjust to college life. “A lot of times, it can be confusing trying to figure out our purpose in life, and it can feel overwhelming, especially in this new college setting,” Jackson observed. “As their STEM peer leader, I understand that pressure firsthand and can relate my own personal experiences. I enjoy listening to their interests, and in turn, I want to be there for them in their struggles. If there is a problem that I myself cannot help them with or resolve, I am happy to refer them to someone who can. As their peer leader, I want to see them thrive.”

In addition to Manahan and Jackson, the students receive encouragement and advice through an additional group of peer mentors, who contact them throughout the semester to see if they have questions or need help with anything. They also assist students in selecting their spring schedule of classes and developing their four-year plan.

To provide further support and career guidance, small groups of students meet with GWU alumni either in person or via Zoom. Some of the topics they discuss are how to succeed at GWU, set career goals, professionalism and networking, and ways to build your resume.

The alumni mentors are:

  • Keely Ford Schonewolf, Class of 2014, bachelor’s in bioloby, interim supervisor for environmental monitoring at Baxter Healthcare in Marion, N.C.
  • Linda Sain Bennett, Class of 2001, bachelor’s in biology, lead physical therapist at the Emerge Ortho Seagate in Wilmington, N.C. She has worked in outpatient orthopedics for 20 years and owned her own practice from 2009 to 2021.
  • Josh Stroup, Class of 2002 and 2011, bachelor’s in computer science and Master of Business Administration. He is strategic accounts support engineer with AlgoSec.
  • Stacie Smith, Class of 2005, bachelor’s in biology, Gardner-Webb instructor of biology.

“I hope the students in the class will gain a sense of community and see the importance of networking with their peer leader, upper-level peer mentors, and their assigned GWU alumni mentor,” Manahan asserted. “I also hope they will gain some friendships that will carry on beyond University 111 and into their major classes. I also believe that some of the study skills focused on STEM classes will help them be successful students. Discussions with the GWU alum mentor will hopefully give students a sense of the importance that shadowing, internships, and volunteer work can be in reaching career goals.”

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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