When Emily Wells graduated from Wayne Christian School in Goldsboro, North Carolina, she sought a college nestled near the mountains where she could further pursue her deep interest in literature and writing.

“I have always hated math with a passion,” expressed Wells, who grew up in the small community of Nahunta, approximately 30 minutes from Goldsboro in North Carolina’s coastal plains. “When I decided to go into English, it was the safe opposite of math!”

With its campus snug cozily at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a comfortable size in comparison to large universities like NC State and East Carolina that left her feeling overwhelmed, and an English department that offered a trip to Oxford, England, Montreat College quickly climbed to the top of her school choices. Her familiarity with the area from summer camping trips to the KOA in nearby Swannanoa further cemented her decision.

“When we got to campus, we knew exactly where it was,” she said. “I took a tour and loved it. I came back in the fall to try out for the volleyball team on a recruitment trip, and everything just fell into place from there.”

During her freshman year at Montreat, Wells took a slight detour from her original college plans. She switched from the volleyball team to be a walk-on for the women’s tennis team in the spring semester. She also adjusted her major from English to Communication Studies.

“I really enjoyed literature and writing, but I couldn’t really see what I would do with that degree post-college,” she admitted. “I started working in the MarComm (Marketing and Communications) office as a student worker because one of my English professors had recommended me to work there and run the student blog for the college website. Because of that experience, I said to myself, ‘OK, I enjoy this, and I can see this being a career.’ Communication Studies was the perfect fit for me because I could still write, but I also got to learn about videography and do other things like that.”

Those successful transitions taught her an important lesson about accepting change.

“Keeping an open mind about the possibilities and choosing Montreat ended up giving me more opportunities than if I had gone somewhere larger,” said Wells, who graduated from Montreat College in 2020 with a major in Communication Studies and a minor in English. “At Montreat, your experience is going to be so personal, and you will have the liberty to try so many things. Be open to trying something different because you never know where that’s going to lead.”

For Wells, those changes in her first year at Montreat led her to an internship with the City of Wilson, NC, before her senior year. Building on that experience, she now serves as the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the city, overseeing marketing efforts for the city’s own broadband provider, Greenlight Community Broadband.

Tallying in at a population of just under 50,000 according to the last census data, Wilson is an agricultural community historically built on the tobacco industry. Among the town’s claims to fame are the original Parker’s BBQ restaurant and the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park, which honors the World War II veteran and creator of the official state folk art of North Carolina with a downtown display of his original collection of whirligigs. Today, the former roadside attractions made from recycled material have been moved to a public park, where the sculptures soar 30-50 feet high among the Wilson skyline.

From 1990-2010, Wilson’s population grew by more than 40 percent, but the collapse of the tobacco industry created a lull in the community. However, like the whirligigs, the city of Wilson is on the rise, thanks in part to a strong manufacturing base and a fiber optic system that provides the citizens of the “Gigabit City” with ultra-high-speed Internet.

“Over the last decade or so, Wilson has changed a lot,” she said. “People are moving to Wilson from The Triangle because of our infrastructure. They’re realizing they can do things here that you can also do in a bigger city with a much lower cost of living.”

Alongside new redevelopment projects downtown, Wilson recently received news that the Carolina Mudcats, a minor league affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, are planning to move to a new stadium in Wilson with construction set to begin soon. In her current position, Wells is proud to play a contributing role in the city’s redevelopment and growth.

“It’s an exciting place to be right now, and I get to see it all right out of our front window,” she said.

Without Montreat College, Wells is confident she wouldn’t be in her current career. For example, she credits a class with Dr. Joseph Martin that helped to plan for the Montreat College Film Festival. That experience served as an excellent introduction to her event planning today for the city of Wilson.

“I was also the student editor for the Whetstone,” she said. “That and other experiences and my coursework prepared me really well for life after college, especially when it came to writing. Montreat gave me a great foundation for copywriting, professional writing, and even creative writing, and that set me up really well for the workforce.”

She also credited her participation in the honors program for her personal and academic growth across her four years at Montreat College.

“I didn’t really want to apply to the honors program at first, but my mom encouraged me to apply,” she confessed. “I didn’t feel like I should be an honor student because I was a good student, but I didn’t consider myself top of my class or a genius; however, it ended up being a huge enhancement to my overall education. It does take a bit more time, but it didn’t keep me from doing the things I enjoyed or being involved in other areas. In fact, I was involved in so many things.”

In addition, Wells cherished her highly anticipated research trip to Oxford with Dr. King. During spring break of her senior year, she conducted research on Walter Hooper, a North Carolina native who became an editor for C.S. Lewis. Her research focused on how Hooper’s editorial work laid the foundation for the eventual popularity of C.S. Lewis.

“It was really cool because we actually got to meet Walter Hooper while we were there and have dinner with him one night,” she reflected. “He ended up passing away in late 2020, so we might have been the last class that was able to do that with him.”

However, much like her freshman year, her plans were once again altered upon her return to Montreat College from her trip.

“I wanted to stay in the mountains after graduation, but COVID happened,” she said. “I didn’t have anything lined up, so I went back home. The day we got back, I remember throwing some clothes in a bag because I thought I was just going home for like a week, and then I never went back. I live five hours away, so I wore the same five shirts over and over until I went back in May and actually moved out of my dorm three months later. Thankfully, the city of Wilson asked me if I wanted to come back here and start as a contractor. I did, and about eight months after that, I started full-time.”

Despite her college plans and career going off script from her high school visions, she firmly believes that God’s plan has led her to the right place. This spring, she will graduate from UNC Wilmington with a Master of Arts in Integrated Marketing Communication.

“At the end of the day, in the field of communications and marketing, you’re a storyteller,” she said. “Now you have so many tools you can use to tell a story because you have the written word, but also video and social media. There are so many ways to tell one story and connect with people. There’s really no limit to what you can do.”

In fact, she can even concede to the notion of running away from math.

When I really got into communications and marketing, I realized I actually enjoyed working with numbers,” she smiled. “It’s really cool to see how what you do translates into analytics.”

Even four years after receiving her college diploma, Wells fondly acknowledges that Montreat College will always be an integral part of her identity.

“Montreat College is a part of my DNA because of the experiences I had there and the people there who helped shape me,” she said warmly. “It’s important to who I am as a professional, it’s key to who I am as a person, and it was essential to building who I am as a Christian, so I’m grateful that the grace of God led me to Montreat. I’ll always be part of that Montreat community, and it’ll still always feel like home to me.”