news-category: Academics

Gardner-Webb’s First Living-Learning Community Helps Students Transition to Campus Life

The Honors LLC meets in their dorm.
Throughout the semester, students in the Honors Living-Learning Community have participated in special events in their residence hall.

Honors Pilot Group Values the Relationships and Community Created by the Program 

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Gardner-Webb’s Division of Student Success and Office of Housing and Residence Education offered the University’s first living-learning community (LLC) this semester. An LLC is a program where first-year students live together on campus and participate in a shared academic endeavor. They also have resources in their residence environment designed for them and engage in structured social activities that also emphasize academics.

The pilot group is the University 111 Honors Section first-year experience course taught by Dr. Wilson Hawkins. An assistant professor of physics, Hawkins is the director of the University Honors Program and faculty fellow for the Honors LLC. Before the 2023 Fall Semester started, first-year students learned about the new LLC. Those who chose to enroll as Honors students were invited to participate.

Dr. Wilson Hawkins, director of the University Honors Program, is the faculty fellow for the Honors Living-Learning Community (LLC) and the peer leader is Makayla Jibben.

“Our students definitely collaborated inside and outside of class,” Hawkins observed. “We played a game where they threw a volleyball around the room and answered questions written on the ball. During this game they recalled some of their favorite college memories, things they regret, things they like to do to destress, etc. Most of these small responses included moments and activities involving each other. They started various Bible study and homework session traditions in their dorm on their own.”

Other special activities held for the 17 students in their residence hall included a question-and-answer session with seniors in the honors program. Students learned about Honors conferences, travel, the Honors thesis, Honors Student Association and other topics. The students were also invited to enjoy doughnuts and muffins while meeting one-on-one with Hawkins in HAPY lobby.

“In Housing, we’ve seen the benefits of this new addition come to fruition within the current class living in HAPY Hall,” said Shelbilyn Boelsche, director of Housing and Residence Education. “I look forward to the continued partnership with Student Success in creating a holistic living and learning environment for our student body.”

Dr. Ryan Erck, executive director of the Division of Student Success, added that LLCs set students up for success moving forward. He quoted from national research conducted by the Assessment of Collegiate Residential Environments and Outcomes. “Students living in an LLC were shown to exhibit higher levels of campus belonging, career attitudes, critical thinking scores, and campus civic engagement,” Erck noted. “In short, these types of initiatives are positively associated with a number of academic and social outcomes.”  

Makayla Jibben, a biomedical sciences major, served as Peer Leader for the Honors LLC. She said her priority has been to create a space where students could freely express themselves and connect with each other. “I’m a senior now, but I still remember all the emotions that I felt as a freshman, some of which were overwhelming or even negative at times,” Jibben reflected. “I know as a new student, they’re most likely juggling feelings of homesickness while also being worried about how to balance classes, all while trying to find their people. I see this goal coming to life as my students come in together after grabbing breakfast or using our time tracker activity to make plans to play sand volleyball or go to the movies.”

Two students in the LLC, Ezekiel Petree and Rachel Gaura, said the program helped them connect to life on campus. Petree is majoring in elementary education and minoring in music. Gaura, a Tucker Scholar, is a psychology major with a minor in discipleship. 

Petree believes that all students could benefit from the LLC concept. “It has been really helpful with the transition from home to here,” he stressed. “I think LLC is amazing; the people I am closest to all live in HAPY and most of us are in the same UNIV 111 class. Once I got to know these people, I was introduced to their friends and then I was able to build other relationships through that.” 

Gaura values the community and camaraderie. “I have enjoyed this program as it has allowed me to develop more intimate relationships with other freshman on campus,” she reflected. “It increases our understanding of one another, while also allowing us extra time to spend together outside of the classroom. Additionally, it gives me someone to walk to class with since we’re all coming and going from the same place.”

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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