news-category: Academics

Gardner-Webb Phi Beta Lambda Member Wins Third Place at National Conference

Johanna Quezada Salazar, of Dallas, N.C., First GWU Student to Compete in 24 Years

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Johanna Quezada Salazar, of Dallas, N.C., a senior international business major at Gardner-Webb University, won third place in the Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL) national conference held recently in Chicago, Ill. Gardner-Webb was one of 26 schools that participated in the event.

Salazar qualified for the national competition by placing first at the North Carolina PBL State Leadership Conference held in April in Charlotte, N.C. She prepared a seven-minute speech to compete in the Business Ethics category. The assigned topic was whether or not it would be ethical for an employer to fire an employee over something on their social media account, and if social media should be considered free speech. “I practiced my speech over and over just to make it sure it was at seven minutes, as well as to build confidence in myself,” Salazar noted. 

She was part of the first delegation that Gardner-Webb had sent to the state event in 24 years. Also attending were Cyrus Richer, of Columbia, S.C., a double major in marketing and photography, who received sixth place in impromptu speaking; and advisors, Brian Cotton, instructor of healthcare management, and Dr. Angelina Smith, assistant professor, in the Godbold College of Business.

Gardner-Webb professor Dr. Sandy van der Poel and her husband, Jack, traveled with Salazar to Chicago, where she presented her speech again. This time, she had to compete in a preliminary round and was the last person to present. Salazar recalled how nervous she felt as she waited for all the other students to compete and the intensity of standing alone in front of three judges: “I gave it my all,” she reflected. “I didn’t know if I was going to make it through to the finals or not. And so, I just gave it my best”

In the final round, Salazar went last again. “I was kind of nervous knowing that they’ve already heard all these speeches from all these different students,” she shared. “Are they going to think that mine was the worst or the best?”

The van der Poels gave her advice that calmed her down and boosted her level of confidence. They reminded her that she is the only one who knows her speech, and she should let her passion for the topic shine in her presentation. “And so I thought, ‘I did it before. I’m going to do it again,’” Salazar related. “I was going to give it my best and just prove to them that I was there for a reason.”

Besides the encouragement from the van der Poels, Salazar said she also relied on everything she’d learned about public speaking in her classes and activities at Gardner-Webb. “I used to be shy, an introvert, but when I joined the Student Government my freshman year, I think that really opened me up to just getting to know different people from different backgrounds from all over the state, and the country,” she affirmed. “That’s what has helped me feel more comfortable presenting and being in front of an audience, because I had to do it regularly.”

A first-generation student who is fluent in Spanish and English, Salazar is grateful to Gardner-Webb for the opportunity to attend the national convention and to the van der Poels for being her chaperones. Salazar has also been busy this summer learning about management in an internship with Scottish Food Systems in Laurinburg, N.C. She graduates in December 2022 from Gardner-Webb and is still considering what comes next. “I have a lot of opportunities, but I just have to pick,” she stated. “Do I want to go straight to law school, or get my MBA, or just go ahead and start working first? I’m planning to take my LSAT in the fall, just to give me an idea of where I want to go from here.”     

 Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to six professional schools, 14 academic departments, 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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