news-category: Academics

Gardner-Webb Assistant Professor Dr. Wilson Hawkins Receives President’s Early Career Award

wilson hawkins talking to a student at Dawg Days
Dr. Wilson Hawkins talks to a student at a Dawg Days event.

Honor Recognizes Scholarship, Instruction, Professional Development and Service

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Gardner-Webb University President Dr. William M. Downs has announced the recipient of the President’s Early Career Award for 2024. Receiving the honor is Dr. Wilson Hawkins, assistant professor of physics and director of the GWU Honors Program. Since Hawkins’ arrival to the University in 2021, he has demonstrated productivity in scholarship, creative discovery, and instruction that exceeds expectations. He also continues to pursue professional development and serve the campus community.

“Dr. Hawkins is off to a fast and impressive start as a member of the Gardner-Webb faculty,” Downs praised. “He exemplifies what we look for in our assistant professors — a clear commitment to instructional innovation and student success, a continuing dedication to advancing new knowledge in a disciplinary field, and a consistent record of collegiality as a member of the GWU community. Wilson Hawkins is broadly recognized for these and other qualities, and for that reason I am delighted to celebrate him with this year’s Early Career Award.”

Hawkins is the seventh recipient of the Early Career Award, which is presented to full-time assistant professors who demonstrate outstanding performance in professional development and excellence in service. The annual award includes an additional $1,000 in professional development funds for Hawkins to use during the 2024-2025 academic year.

“It is an honor to be nominated by my peers for this award,” Hawkins shared. “I can’t take sole credit for my work, as I have a wealth of ongoing support from students, colleagues, administrative assistants, and department chairs. These folks have treated me like family from the first day I stepped on campus. My first impressions of the faculty and administration were overwhelmingly positive and was the reason I chose to join the GWU team. This realized sense of community makes me proud to be a part of Bulldog Nation. Thank you to everyone who chose to lift me up with this recognition. I am truly blessed!”

In the Gardner-Webb Department of Natural Sciences, Hawkins teaches General Physics, University Physics, and Astronomy courses with accompanying laboratory components. He supervises the Williams Observatory event schedule and equipment; manages both the Physics and Observatory budgets for the department; and develops physics and astronomy curriculum which maximizes student engagement through university resources.

He received his bachelor’s in physics, master’s in applied physics and Ph.D. in biomedical physics all from East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, N.C. While at ECU, he was the lead physics tutor, conducted atomic physics experimental research in the ECU Accelerator Lab and was a graduate teaching assistant.

He was nominated by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Dr. Robert G. Prickett, Dr. David Campbell, associate professor and chair of the natural sciences department, and Dr. James Morgan, professor and chair of the Department of Psychological Science. All three mentioned his dedication to his students and their learning. Prickett wrote, “I’d like to begin by describing the ways that Dr. Hawkins demonstrates his excellence in teaching. Per his department chair, Dr. David Campbell, Dr. Hawkins’ courses are very popular: ‘He connects well with students, and his teaching is appreciated by students with a strong background in physics as well as those new to the concepts.’”

Prickett continued, “Dr. Hawkins, in the past year alone, has re-designed five of his courses around online open resource materials. Additionally, Dr. Hawkins advises and mentors students outside the classroom—this past year, mentoring three biology seminar students and 20 student poster presentations for regional and national honors conference presentations.”

Dr. Wilson Hawkins led an Honors trip to Washington, D.C., in 2023.

Morgan also praised the various ways that Hawkins works to help each student have the opportunity to succeed. “I was also impressed with the systematic way he went about preparing for and teaching a course h has never taught before (astronomy),” Morgan wrote. “He was very encouraging in the feedback he gave to the honors student I mentored. And, he is providing the honors group with exciting opportunities for growth and service.”

Prickett commended Hawkins for his work as director of the University Honors Program, with approximately 200 honors students. One of Hawkins’ successful initiatives has been to collaborate with the Division of Student Success to offer the University’s first Living and Learning Community for honors students. Student Success plans to offer more Living and Learning Communities using this first one as a guide. Additionally, Hawkins mentored two honors students who won awards for their student research posters at the National Collegiate Honors Council meeting.

Prickett further recognized Hawkins for his diligence to pursue research in spite of his commitments to the University’s Honors Program. Campbell noted that Hawkins has developed research techniques that have the potential for a wide range of applications in the investigation of materials (metals, polymers, ceramics, and composites). Additionally, Prickett noted that Hawkins was a presenter at an international conference on accelerators in research and industry in Dallas, Texas. Last summer, Hawkins served as a research associate at the ECU Accelerator Laboratory, assisting in data acquisition, training a new cohort of Ph.D. students, and designing new standard operating procedures for accelerator hardware and software components.

Previous winners of the President’s Early Career Award

  • 2023 – Erin Cook, assistant professor assistant professor and program coordinator for Human Services,
  • 2022 – Dr. Aihua Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences.
  • 2021 – Dr. Mitch Porter, assistant professor in the College of Education.
  • 2020 – Dr. Yvonne Smith, assistant professor in the Hunt School of Nursing, Dr. Anna Sieges-Beal, assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy, and Dr. Casey Delehanty, former assistant professor.

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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