Dr. Stephen Laws, Associate Professor, Ed.D. Education Leadership, Gardner-Webb University, NC

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Stephen Laws, Associate Professor, Ed.D. Educational Leadership

What programs do you teach at Gardner-Webb University? What drew you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it? 

I teach in the Ed.D. Educational Leadership Doctoral Program (EDLS). The doctoral program focuses on leadership from the district perspective. Having served as a superintendent in two North Carolina school districts for over 13 years, this program closely aligns with my experiences as an educational leader.

Like almost all in the academic arena, I am passionate about the value of quality educational experiences, whatever the venue.  There are professions that many would find boring; education certainly is not one of them!

How will your program better prepare/equip educators for the current climate we’re in? 

EDLS is all about leadership. Our students focus on the leadership standards:

  • Strategic (mission and vision)
  • Instructional
  • Human resource
  • Cultural
  • Micro-political
  • External development
  • Managerial

In truth, if our students are equipped with knowledge through discussion, research, and experiential learning, then they can navigate the challenges of any situation.

What attracted you to Gardner-Webb University to teach at? What sets them apart? 

I grew up 45 miles east of Gardner-Webb University, so I was always familiar with it. One of my very good friends approached me about joining the faculty upon my retirement from being a superintendent and moving back home. That was 10 years ago, and I have loved every minute of my time at Gardner-Webb since.

I think Gardner-Webb University is set apart due to our Christian foundation. We are unabashed in stating that we are a Christian university. That doesn’t mean we proselytize; it does mean that we are not inhibited in tying leadership principles to Christian principles, so many of which go hand-in-hand.

Class size is another area that sets us apart. Cohort sizes allow for a great professor-student bond.  Finally, we are a low-residency program, blending synchronous online classes with weekend face-to-face so that our cohort truly bond with one another and with the professors.

What is your professional background as an educator? 

I have a B.S. in Business from Wake Forest University, Master’s and Ed.S. of Educational Leadership from Winthrop University, and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Vanderbilt University.

I served over 32 years in K-12 education as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, HR executive director, and superintendent. Wisdom is often best gained through experience, and I was blessed to have many, varied experiences.

Tell us a little about yourself. Why did you become interested in education?  

I am blessed in my faith and family. I have been married 38 years, and we have one daughter, who we adopted from Russia. As a family, we love to travel and have been blessed (pre-COVID) to see many wonderful places both in the United States and overseas. I love to watch people with talent: the arts and sports, in particular.

I decided to forego a career in banking to pursue my passion for athletic coaching. Alas, God had another plan for me: a door was opened early to be a school-based administrator and my coaching aspirations quickly changed. It’s amazing how what you “think” you want isn’t what is ultimately best. I am so fortunate for opportunities that have occurred in my life.

What would you tell prospective students considering your program about yourself? What’s something that students and colleagues should know about you?

I hope students find that we are accessible and approachable, all of us. They have our cell phone numbers, and we understand that their work hours prevent typical 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. conversations; we talk early in the morning as they drive to school and work or in the evening when they aren’t pulled upon quite as much. I think that the best thing about EDLS faculty is empathy. All of us have been or are currently members of the K-12 work world. We feel the pain; we share the joy.

What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing their educational leadership degree? How can people stand out in this field? 

Prepare yourself for doors to open. Most in our program don’t know exactly where they want the degree to take them; that is a good thing. I tell our students: prepare yourself to lead and when the doors open, you will be ready! We are a leadership program, not a superintendent preparatory program, so our graduates take on all kinds of roles. We believe our graduates are ready for whatever opportunities come their way, and, more importantly, our graduates feel ready. That gives great comfort.

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

It is important to know that we at Gardner-Webb University will support you and care about you. Relationships are critical on both ends; cohorts bond and the professor and student relationships are vital for us. Finally, because doctorates are not inexpensive, there must be value in them. For our students, the doctorate pays off; otherwise, our numbers would not be near what they are. I hope those interested will contact me and let us share the joy of being a Gardner-Webb University EDLS student!