news-category: Summer Enrichment Programs

Stonecutter Science Academy at Gardner-Webb Introduces Students to Careers in Science

Dr. Jay Zimmer, left, helps students with an activity
Dr. Jay Zimmer, left, helps students as they begin to draw out the crime scene for their investigation.

Middle and High School Students from 10 Schools Attend Annual Summer Camp

The students in the Science Academy made casts of their footprints.

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—The 2023 Science Academy hosted by Gardner-Webb University and sponsored by Stonecutter Foundation in Spindale, N.C., introduced students to real-world applications of science, such as crime scene investigation and forensic anthropology. The 12 students also learned about the Department of Natural Sciences, the Human Performance Lab in the Department of Exercise Science and the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at Gardner-Webb.

Jay Zimmer, assistant professor of Biology at Gardner-Webb, and Jill Francis, high school instructional coach for Rutherford County (N.C.) Schools, led the program. Francis taught science for 25 years and is National Board Certified, a Kenan Fellow and recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in teaching. She helped recruit students for the week-long event. Alumna Haley Searcy also helped with the activities.

Faculty from the Department of Physician Assistant Studies talked about the program and demonstrated how to take blood pressure readings, check pulses and reflexes. During the activities, they showed the students what happens when a person is dunked in water. Mildred Curtindale, an 11th-grader at Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, discovered that the heart rate drops. “It’s a natural response, because you’re trying to survive,” Curtindale said. 

Faith Perry, a ninth-grader at Chase High, said science is her favorite subject and that’s why she wanted to attend the Science Academy. She is interested in biology and caring for animals. Katie Vassey, a 12th-grade student at Rutherford Early College High School in Spindale, N.C., is interested in medical school and decided to attend the Science Academy to learn more about the field. She liked gathering evidence from the crime scene and analyzing the DNA. Vassey also signed up for the Academy, because she wanted to learn more about going to school at Gardner-Webb.  

Edith Perez, an 11th-grader at Chase High School, said she is passionate about learning science and wants to be a researcher. “I thought Science Academy would give me a different view into what I wanted to do when I was older,” she related. “I’ve enjoyed doing the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) amplification labs. When you use PCR to amplify DNA, you can see the different amounts of base pairs within the DNA.”

Students pour the dye off of their DNA sample.

In addition to the lab activities, the students heard from a Gardner-Webb admissions counselor about how to select a college, what questions to ask, and how financial aid works. Zimmer stressed the importance of internships and research in college and also encouraged the students to join clubs while they are in school and in college.

The group went on field trips to see how the science from the lab is used in real life. At Rutherford Regional Health System, they learned about careers in the hospital. Employees at Cohesion Phenomics in Spindale made a presentation about the organization and the science of DNA. The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Forensics Department taught the group how to fingerprint with various powders.

The students represented the following schools:

Cleveland County

  • Crest Middle
  • Pinnacle Classical Academy

Gaston County

  • Gaston Early College

Lincoln County

  • Lincoln Charter

Rutherford County

  • Chase High
  • Chase Middle
  • Lake Lure Classical Academy
  • Master’s Academy
  • R-S Central REACH
  • Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy

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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