Ten Gardner-Webb Students, and One Puppy, Present Research at Alpha Chi Conference in Baltimore

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Team also designs literacy project for Cleveland County YMCA and food pantry 

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.— Ten students, one faculty advisor, and a certain canine companion represented Gardner-Webb University at the recent super-regional convention of Alpha Chi, the national college honor society.  Each student presented original research, and two were named either a winner or an alternate for prestigious national scholarships.  The puppy, a leader dog in training named Tucker, enjoyed the singular distinction of being the conference’s only canine participant.

The student participants were Elisa Beekman, Hannah Davis, Matthew Kiggen, Hillary Leonard, Billy Salyers, Amy Snyder, Chelsea Usher (Tucker’s trainer), Tori Welch, Presley Wesson, and James Withrow.  The faculty advisor is Dr. June Hobbs, GWU professor of English and director of undergraduate research.

Beekman, a junior art education major, was awarded an Alfred H. Nolle scholarship, worth $1,500 toward her senior year of undergraduate study, for an essay on her artistic theory and method. Alpha Chi awards only 10 Nolle scholarships nationwide each year.  Beekman uses paintings and collage techniques to share memories of her childhood in Papua, Indonesia, where her parents are missionaries.

Kiggen, a senior religious studies and philosophy major, was named first alternate for a H.Y. Benedict fellowship for his paper on the validity of Japanese Christianity.  Ten Benedict fellowships are awarded each year to support students in their first year of graduate study.

Tucker made his conference debut during Usher’s presentation.  “I discussed how puppy raising and service-learning go together, and how true service-learning doesn’t necessarily have to carry academic credit,” said Usher, an experienced service dog trainer.

Usher said the experience of presenting at Alpha Chi “really gives your work purpose, especially if you have the chance to share a project you care about with people who are like-minded.”

This year, Alpha Chi also challenged its chapters to design and implement a service project to promote literacy.  In response, the GWU chapter used surplus funds to purchase 200 children’s books, and raised another 200 through an on-campus book drive.  They plan to donate half of the books to the Ruby C. Hunt YMCA library in Boiling Springs, and the other half to a local food pantry.

“Our food pantries do such a wonderful job of clothing and feeding people,” said Leonard, the club’s service coordinator.  “But we thought, beyond the physical needs of food and shelter, knowledge has to be the next greatest need.  It’s like the old saying goes: if you teach a person to fish, you give them food for life.”

At the YMCA, the students didn’t just deliver books.  They also hosted the children at the Y’s after school program in an called “Reading to Pets.”  Of course, Tucker took center stage once again.

“Chelsea [Usher] told the kids all about Tucker, and then we gave them a choice of books to read to him.  We thought it would help them see that literacy is fun.”

Afterward, the kids drew pictures of their favorite parts of the story, and explained their drawings to the group, teaching them to personally connect with the story.  Each kid even received a book to take home and keep.

Leonard said it’s not a challenge to get Alpha Chi students on board for a literacy campaign.  By definition, Alpha Chi members are the University’s strongest academic performers.  Only the top 10 percent of the juniors, seniors and graduate students are even eligible for membership.

“We all just believe so strongly in the life-changing power of learning.  It’s fun to share that power with others.”

Gardner-Webb’s Alpha Chi chapter competes in the society’s regional and super regional competitions each year.  For more on Alpha Chi, visit alphachihonor.org.