The Summer Leadership Experience That Changed My Life

It’s the first day of college. Your parents are gone. You’re in a new environment with (mostly) all new people. The prospect of college classes is looming over you. Suddenly, the future seems to be staring you square in the face. All of these things can make you feel anxious and uncomfortable, and those are not the emotions that should be arising as you begin this incredible new chapter. If you want to ease into life at Gardner-Webb University while simultaneously preparing for your future, let me tell you about the unique Summer Leadership Experience that changed my life.

Posing for a group picture on the back porch of the Tucker Student Center.

1.     The Summer Leadership Experience gave me some of my most cherished friendships

I was expecting a group of 20-30 students but was pleasantly surprised when there were only nine of us! We bonded extremely quickly during our short time together; we stayed in touch those last few weeks before school started which made it nice to already know a few people and their smiling faces when we returned to campus in August. Whether in the classroom or out having fun, we always had a good time together! We even had a bonfire out by Lake Hollifield one night and were ~ rudely ~ interrupted by the sprinkler systems drenching us and the firepit in chilly water! That was a memory none of us will soon forget.

2.     The tools gained during the three-day experience have been invaluable in my studies

 We began by using a website called StrengthsQuest to discover each of our unique strengths and then compared them and discussed how we could use each others’ strengths to our advantages when working in group settings. Understanding what specific strengths I possess has helped me to reorient my career path over the last two years on more than one occasion and proven extremely useful when working on class projects. We learned many other important skills that have helped me in the classroom and outside of it, but StrengthsQuest by far had the largest impact on my life.

So thankful for these first college friends and the experience that brought us together!

3.     I made connections that kickstarted my college career

During the program, we were introduced to wonderful faculty and staff members like Sarah Currie (Dean of Students), Erin Cook (Program Coordinator of Human Services), and Brad Vaughn (one of the coolest counselors/baristas/grad students/student activities people ever). Micah Martin, coordinator of the program, was a huge help in so many ways. He encouraged me to start and lead a new club on campus, which I never would have imagined doing before. It so important to make connections and seek wisdom, and this experience taught me the value of that.

Most importantly, we had fun while learning how to be better leaders.

Most importantly, we had fun while learning how to be better leaders.

There are so many reasons to embrace this opportunity, and these are just three! I will never forget the memories made during my time at the Summer Leadership Experience, and I have used and will continue to use the tools I gained through my experience to succeed during my time here at Gardner-Webb and, eventually, out in the real world!


The 2019 Summer Leadership Experience, open to rising GWU freshmen, will take place July 16-18. During this three-day program, you will live on campus, explore the surrounding communities, participate in a service project, and strengthen your leadership abilities while exploring your talents, passion, and purpose. For more information, register here or email

Makayla Fewster, Class of 2021