Math Teacher Continues to Inspire Pupil as Both Serve Gardner-Webb University Students

Print Friendly

Education Equals Opportunities for Adjunct Rory Hefner, Assistant Professor Dr. Jason Willis

Rory Hefner, Dr. Jason Willis

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Long before Dr. Jason Willis became an assistant professor of mathematics at Gardner-Webb University, he knew he wanted to be a teacher. Many of his own high school teachers advanced his drive to be an educator. Now one of those mentors, Rory Hefner, is working alongside him in the University’s math department, and both are inspiring a new generation of students to excel in the subject and reach for their career and life goals.

Willis took algebra II and calculus classes with Hefner at East Burke High School (Connelly Springs, N.C.) in the early 1990s. Hefner recalls that Willis was one of her favorite students, and Willis recollects that Hefner was an encouraging teacher who wrote “HAND” (Have A Nice Day) on every paper.

After Willis completed his bachelor’s degree, he returned to East Burke to teach pre-algebra, where he joined his former teacher Hefner on the staff. “When I faced challenges as a new teacher, she offered me great support to stick with it,” Willis recalled. “It’s a unique opportunity to get to teach alongside one of your own teachers.”

Years later, Willis’s career brought him to Boiling Springs as a technology facilitator at Crest High School. Dr. Bob Bass (professor of mathematics at GWU) attended church with Willis, learned Willis had a math degree and shared that the University needed a nighttime teacher in what is now known as the Degree Completion Program (DCP). Willis took advantage of the opportunity and after several years became a full-time faculty member at the University.

Several years later while seeing each other in the community, Hefner told Willis she would be interested in a job at Gardner-Webb if one became available. With more than 30 years of teaching experience in public schools, she was interested in applying her skills at the University level. A statistics course in the DCP soon became available and Willis connected Hefner with the opportunity.

Hefner said she is blessed to be able to now work alongside one of her own students. “It makes you feel good that you were a positive influence,” she shared. “Sometimes you don’t get to see the results of your work. In this case I do, and Jason is an awesome person and teacher to work alongside. Everyone in the math department at Gardner-Webb is a wonderful person and educator.”

Hefner has now taught for Gardner-Webb for more than three years, and was recently honored as the DCP’s Outstanding Adjunct Professor of the Year, while Willis is beginning his ninth year with the University and was recognized by DCP as Outstanding Professor of the Year. Years after Hefner first taught Willis as a high school student, both continue to greatly enjoy math and helping students.

“I look at the math department as a critical-thinking department. We try to get students to solve problems and motivate them to ask why something works,” Willis offered. “I always knew I wanted to be a math teacher. Having great teachers, like Rory, was a big reason why.”

Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University provides exceptional educational opportunities within a Christian environment, preparing students to think critically, to succeed professionally, and to serve faithfully as members of their local and global communities.