Oh, the Places You'll Go!
Many students describe their time in college as an adventure—their first time away from home on their own, with real responsibilities solely on their shoulders. It’s a time of excitement, discovery, networking, and development, and it's also a springboard for future opportunities. Two recent LCU graduates have begun new and exciting adventures—one beginning her dream job at Walt Disney World and the other in the office of a U.S. Congresswoman.
Nicole Warren ('22) grew up in Lubbock, and because her mother, Terri Warren, has been working in the LCU Public Relations department and with LCU summer camps since Nicole was 5 years old, she was very familiar with LCU. As it came time for her to consider college choices and career opportunities, it was the welcome that she received on her LCU campus visit that struck her most deeply as a prospective student.
“It was the overall atmosphere and the community,” she recalled. “It felt exciting to be a part of a place where professors and current students went out of their way to get to know me. That made a big impact on me and was a large part of why I decided to attend LCU.”
The journey to Lubbock Christian University was different for Nicole’s classmate, Emma Ver Hage ('22).
“I always thought I'd go to Texas Tech, like my sister did for her undergraduate studies,” stated Emma, a New Jersey native, “but then my sister went to the Covenant School of Nursing, and I was really introduced to LCU for the first time.” For Emma, the draw of the campus was immediate when she began her own college search early in high school. “I had spent a couple of days in Lubbock before my tour, but I was only on campus for one morning,” she explained. “I could see myself at LCU so clearly, and I was comfortable. I knew it was far enough away from home—obviously, my parents weren't just going to be knocking on my door—but it felt like home, and I knew it was the right fit.”
For Emma, the choice was easy. “I wanted to be able to go back to school on Monday and tell everyone that I had made my choice, so I put my deposit down before I had even gotten back to New Jersey,” she recalled. The next time Emma would come to the campus was when she moved into the residence hall before her freshman orientation.
For both Emma and Nicole, once they arrived on campus for the start of their college careers, they quickly realized the transformative power LCU has for so many of its students. Both would discover new passions, eventually change majors, and ultimately end up in vastly different places than they had imagined when they first started.
Emma had aspired to become a teacher for as long as she could remember.
“I have pictures of me when I was in preschool where I was sitting on my teacher’s chair, and I'm holding the book and my friends are on the floor,” she recalled, laughing. “I played school. I had bulletin boards on my wall in my bedroom, and teachers would give me their extra worksheets. I just knew that I was going to be a teacher.”
Nicole’s beginning of college was less certain. She began as a business major, but when the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on hold in the spring of 2020, she began to re-evaluate her future.
“It shifted my perspective on a lot of things,” she explained. “I was talking to a lot of my friends and realized that I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do after college.” She changed her major to communication that fall determining that it would provide avenues into a broad spectrum of careers.
The pandemic had a similar effect on Emma’s education, though her interest in politics had begun to appear before college. “I was able to vote in 2016, so that's where my itch for it started,” she recalled. “My parents told me, ‘If you're going to vote, do your research—decide what you want to do and cast your vote.’ There was never any pressure to vote any specific way,” she added, “but they just wanted me to be educated about my decision.”
Still, her desire to be a teacher remained at the forefront.
One of Emma’s goals when she came to LCU was to participate in the LCU Washington program, which offers any LCU student the opportunity to apply to spend a full semester living in Washington, D.C., with an internship at the nation’s capital.
“When I toured LCU as a high school student, I learned about the LCU Washington program, and that was a goal that I had set for myself really early on as a freshman,” she explained. “I had always intended to go over the summer, so that I never lost time on campus.” Emma was heavily involved in many campus organizations, including her social club, Kappa Phi Kappa.
“Because of the disruption of the pandemic, I ended up going in the fall,” she explained, “and I was placed with an education nonprofit organization called the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE). I immediately felt a fit with their mission statement, and I was on their policy team.”
Aside from the professional lessons and networking she was able to pursue during her time in D.C., she also recalls how formative that semester was personally.
Her work with the COE provided broad-based learning experiences. “It’s a lobby firm,” she explained, “so they get all their funding from the government when they've set out all their budget plans. I learned so much about the lobbying side of Washington, which has obviously been helpful, but I also learned that I really am interested in policy.”
Interestingly, it was in one of Emma’s education courses preparing her to be a teacher after returning from Washington that she fully realized her calling to politics. “I was sitting in Professor Mahan’s class one day, and she was talking about the government meal programs,” she explained. “Professor Mahan asked the class, ‘Let’s say that you end up with five extra apples for breakfast. If you have 20 students, and you know that you have five kids who go hungry, what are you going to do?’ And of course, everyone responds, ‘I’m going to send those apples home with the children who need them.’ She then explained to us that it's technically stealing from the federal government—we’re not allowed to do that.”
Emma was struck by the problems with that system, as were many of her classmates. “The class was freaking out, and I looked at Professor Mahan and asked, ‘So why doesn't somebody say something? That’s either a state or federally regulated program. If you're part of a teacher’s union, we have enough people to say something, and even if it doesn’t get changed right away, maybe it will sit in the back of someone’s mind until one day, it does.’” In that moment, everything clicked for Emma. “I was like, ‘Okay, I'll just do it.’”
That internship in Washington and the time spent in the classroom with her professors and classmates refocused the trajectory of her life. She changed her major to English, officially deciding to pursue a career into the political world.
For Nicole, conversations with trusted mentors on LCU’s campus influenced her decision to follow her dreams.
Like Emma, she was also very plugged into various parts of LCU’s student body. She held offices in her social club, Christliche Damen, and she also started Delight Ministries, an on-campus organization dedicated to women’s bible study. As a senior, Nicole was elected President of the Inter Club Council (ICC) and oversaw meeting with and advising the various social clubs on campus on a weekly basis—and it was during those meetings that she found an invaluable mentor in LCU’s Dean of Students.
“I got to meet with Josh Stephens weekly in my duties with ICC and social clubs,” she explained, "and he mentored me through a lot of just the hard life during my senior year.”
She also credited LCU’s Vice President of Student Life, Randal Dement. “Randal would let me sit in his office, and he helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. He and Josh were probably the first ones I started talking to about those big questions, and they helped me narrow down what I enjoy doing and where I would want to go.” Those conversations helped Nicole discover her desire to work at Disney—but at the time, she had no idea how that could happen.
“It just always seems like such a magical, happy place to me,” she explained, “and I realized that one of my passions I’d discovered at LCU is that I really want people to feel included—to belong.”
Nicole remembered an initiative that her older sister had mentioned to her a couple of years before called the Disney College Program, which recruits college students of all majors for a semester-long paid internship at one of their resorts, offering many opportunities to transition to a career with the company.
“My sister had shown me the program, but I’d never thought it was something I'd be able to get into,” she explained. “But when talking with Josh, Randal, and Warren McNeill, they showed me that, if I really worked hard for it, it was something I could do,” she added, referencing another longtime mentor in LCU's Vice President of University Relations.
Nicole met with each of them throughout the semester to work on resumes, cover letters, and interview prep for the program. “I’m so grateful for those conversations and those people who helped show me that this was a real possibility,” she recalled.
The competition was very stiff; the Disney College Program has roughly a 20% acceptance rate—nearly four out of every five applicants are rejected. Nicole applied for the program and waited three months to hear back.
She finally got the response she’d been waiting for—she’d been accepted to the program and would report to Walt Disney World’s Epcot Resort in Orlando, Florida, in just a few short months.
“It was amazing—it was what I had dreamed about for years,” Nicole exclaimed.
Emma’s journey to her dream career was difficult because of the relationships she had already established with the faculty of the School of Education.
“I was super hesitant to make the transition from Education to the Department of Humanities,” she recalled. “To leave the LCU Education program—that was a very big deal, and I was extremely nervous about it. As soon as I started looking into the process, though, the Humanities office coordinator, Amy Smith, and all the professors there made me feel so welcomed, and it really quieted all those nerves.”
The courses she took and professors she learned from during that last year only served to affirm her decision had been the correct one.
“The conversations in my Constitutional Law class with Dr. Tim Byars, my literature classes with Dr. Shenai Alonge-Moore and Dr. Carole Carroll, honing my writing skills with Professor Jana Anderson—they all truly poured into me, and I wouldn't be able to be in Washington without them. The writing skills, the critical thinking, and the ways that I learned how to examine other people's opinions and be open to those conversations, and how to have that civil discourse—all of that came from the Humanities department.”
While completing her final year at LCU, Emma was working at an internship in the local office of Congressman Jodey Arrington of Texas’ 19th Congressional District. By her final semester, she had sent applications to be a staffer to over a dozen seats in Washington. It was an agonizing wait.
On February 16, she received an offer to join the staff of a congresswoman from New Mexico.
“As Dr. Kregg Fehr likes to say, I basically was drafted to Congress,” she recalled. “There was an offer at the end of the phone call to continue to interview and move to Washington, D.C., within 12 days, so I joined the team and started on March 1.”
Of course, that turnaround meant some heavy modifications to her class schedule, as she had to complete her final five weeks of classes remotely. “I visited with Dr. Stacy Patty, Dr. Fehr, and other professors to help modify my schedule,” she explained, “but most people didn’t know I had moved to D.C. until they saw a picture I posted on social media to tell everyone I was here.” She would return to Lubbock at the beginning of May to graduate, but her time in Washington was already underway.
Nicole’s start at Disney seemed just as sudden. The offer of the internship, the acceptance, and the planning for living in a different state thousands of miles from Lubbock happened in a matter of a few months–it was a lot of big adjustments.
“I've been living here for about a month, and it still just doesn't feel real,” she explained. “I just get to come to work and have fun, and that just seems so crazy to me. I don’t think it’s fully set in yet,” she added with a laugh.
Nicole is currently working the various festivals and seasonal events at the Epcot Theme Park in the Orlando Walt Disney World Resort. Some days her work entails interacting with park guests at the various booths, and other days she is tasked with assisting the chefs and other hospitality personnel. “Every day is just so different,” she shared, “that’s one of my favorite parts.”
The yearlong internship is not only paid, but it also includes housing provided by Disney and a direct path toward a full career with the company.
“Even within the first two weeks, I’d already met several different employees who had started the college program here 20 years ago. It's powerful to see that I really can pursue my dreams—in fact, I just turned in my application yesterday to transfer to the new Star Wars Galactic Star Cruiser. Once you're in the program, it can open so many different opportunities like getting the chance to apply for something like Star Wars, one of the most competitive jobs in the park.”
Aside from those perks, Nicole has also enjoyed the diverse group of people she gets to work with each day.
“It’s been so cool to explore and meet so many new people,” she shared, “and it’s been so eye-opening, especially since the international program is opening back up. I've already met several international students that are coming over to represent their countries, and it’s such a neat cultural experience.”
Emma’s time on Capitol Hill has likewise been full of new adventures. In July, she began a new role working for Congresswoman Julie Letlow from Louisiana’s 5th district.
“I'm a Staff Assistant,” she shared, “and Congresswoman Letlow likes to explain my job as the hospitality coordinator. I get to help coordinate tours; I am the main person who picks up the phones and has direct contact with constituents; I help coordinate the interns and oversee their daily operations; I help write letters for the congresswoman; and I welcome anyone who visits our office. I also drive the congresswoman when she's here in DC,” she added with a laugh, “which is a very stressful part of the job.”
Emma was able to welcome former LCU mentors and meet new LCU students during the annual E Pluribus Unum trip, a unique LCU program that provides 3 hours of History credit to incoming freshmen as they experience the nation’s capital and other historic American sites.
“I got to see Dr. Patty and Dr. Fehr and give them a tour,” she explained, adding just how much those mentors have made a huge impact on her journey.
“At the end of the day, just like I did during the Washington D.C. semester-long internship program, the main person I now reach out to whenever I needed advice or am not sure what to do is Dr. Patty,” she shared. “Sure, we have different opinions on a lot of things, but I learned from him how to really respect others with differing opinions, and that's what makes him such a good educator, a good mentor, and a good adviser to students—and I’m so thankful for him.”
“I never would have thought that at 23 years old, I would have a government-issued ID and get to walk through the doors on Capitol Hill every day,” Emma shared. “It’s just incredible.”
“Dream big,” Nicole added. “Coming to Disney was always one of my biggest dreams, and it's something I never would have had the confidence to apply for before LCU. Even if it’s hard, I’d tell any freshman to find those mentors who are going to walk through life with you, because at LCU, they're around every corner and in every single building. I will always remember the people at LCU who changed my life.”
For Nicole and Emma, the adventure has only just begun.