Jason Willis – Class of 1992
Associate Professor of Mathematics / Chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences / Program Coordinator for Mathematics Education, Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, NC

“My love of math was born and nurtured in the pie-shaped classrooms in the East Burke High School Math Department.” So states Jason Willis, who has come a long way since he sat in that math classroom. He now works as an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC, where he also serves as the Chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences and as Program Coordinator for Mathematics Education. “My repertoire of teaching ranges from introductory math courses (Precalculus and Statistics) for the general education program to mathematics education courses for elementary, middle, and high school education majors. Supervising student teaching experiences is part of my duties as a Program Coordinator.

“I enjoy math and being able to share my enthusiasm of the subject with students. I chose teaching as a career while at East Burke and was awarded a Teaching Fellows Scholarship to attend Appalachian State University. My love of math is deeply rooted in all the experiences and opportunities I had while growing up in Burke County. I fondly remember all the wonderful teachers who challenged me to do my best and work hard to learn new things. I literally could name every teacher I had from kindergarten to high school. I had favorites, but I would have to say that every teacher inspired my love of learning and motivated me to become a teacher.

“I had the most fortunate experience to graduate from East Burke High School, earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics Education from ASU in 1996, and then return to East Burke as a member of the Math Department Faculty. It was a pleasure to work with many of the teachers who taught me. While working at East Burke, I was grateful that ASU began a M.A. in Mathematics Education cohort at East Burke Middle School. I worked at East Burke for 5 years before taking a 2-year hiatus from education, working for a healthcare training company in Hickory. During the hiatus, I honed my computer and technology skills traveling around the United States training nurses to use technology to gather and submit data. But I missed the traditional classroom, so I moved to Shelby to work at Crest High school as a technology specialist and computer programming teacher.

“While teaching at Crest, I began moonlighting for Gardner-Webb University as an adjunct professor teaching Statistics and Probability for GOAL, a program for adults to achieve their undergraduate degrees with classes taught in the evenings. This experience led to the opportunity to join Gardner-Webb as a full-time instructor. While working full-time at Gardner-Webb, I was afforded the opportunity to teach and earn my doctorate in Educational Leadership, also from ASU. With a growing family, it took me 7 years to complete a doctorate and climb to the rank of Assistant Professor. I then moved to the rank of Associate Professor and achieved tenure. My career path has been atypical from most professors, but iy has given me the best experiences to be able to help prepare students for a career in teaching mathematics.

“The challenges of teaching math on a university level in today’s culture are keeping up with technology and staying relevant in the perception of generationally different students. I’m getting older, and the students I teach seem to be getting younger and younger each year. The rewards of being an educator are obvious, but as a wise East Burke colleague once told me, the rewards of teaching may take a lifetime to realize. The motto of Gardner-Webb University is Pro Deo et Humanitate, For God and Humanity. I feel that my calling to teach is a calling from God, and He has blessed me by allowing me to work with Gardner-Webb students every day, helping each of them achieve the goal of a higher education.

“I have had many educational mentors who challenged and inspired me along the way, and it would be difficult to only name one or two. The East Burke instructors who challenged me the most were my AP English teachers, Sherron Prewitt and Anne Stephens. British and American literature were not my greatest strengths, but the experiences in Mrs. Stephens and Mrs. Prewitt’s classes are some that I will never forget. Of course, I must mention the East Burke Math Department; Jack Robinson, Virginia Hayes, Lucille Bond, Rory Hefner, Reynolds Hollifield, and Jay Murray all vividly come to mind when I think back on my high school days. I can still picture Mr. Hollifield drawing geometric shapes in the air and Mrs. Bond teaching a unique method to expand binomial expressions. Rory Hefner was my Algebra II and Calculus teacher, sponsor of the Future Teachers of America club, and role model. All her tests and hand-written worksheets included her iconic acronym, HAND, at the top, standing for Have A Nice Day. When Rory retired from teaching high school several years ago, I hired her to teach as an adjunct at Gardner-Webb. An article was posted about our reconnection on Gardner-Webb’s

Jason plans to apply for the rank of full professor in the fall. After that, he says, “The sky’s the limit.”

Published May 2020

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