UA Little Rock Honors Emily Wells as Whitbeck Award Winner


Emily Wells, a mass communication major and theatre arts minor from Warren, has been named the winner of the 2024 Edward L.Whitbeck Memorial Award at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Frank L.and Beverly Whitbeck established the top graduating senior award in memory of their son, Edward Lynn Whitbeck, who was a senior at Little Rock University, the predecessor of UA Little Rock, at the time of his death in 1965. Each scholar receives a personalized plaque and a monetary award.
“I could hardly believe it when I got the news because there were so many exceptional candidates,” Wells said. “Winning this award made me feel that all of my hard work paid off in the end.”
Wells has been heavily involved in the UA Little Rock student newspaper, the Forum, serving as a writer and editor. The Arkansas College Media Association has recognized her skills as she recently received first place in the spot news photo category and second place in the feature photo category.
“Outside of serving as editor of the Forum, Emily is active in many ways at our university,” said Dr. Tim Edwards, director of the School of Mass Communication. “For example, she resurrected the Trojan Film Club, a School of Mass Communication student organization that had been dormant for two plus years. Since its rebirth, the organization has participated in various university events spearheaded by Emily including Discover and sponsoring on-campus film screenings for students who are film enthusiasts.”
As a theatre arts minor, Wells has embraced the opportunity to learn skills in acting, costuming, directing, and producing. She has worked as an office assistant and camp counselor for the School of Literary and Performing Arts. She’s also participated in the Fringe Festival, served as an assistant stage manager and deck crew chief for “Games of Chance,” coordinated a headshot workshop for actors and student photographers, and worked as an actor in seven short films as well as a hostage simulation training for the FBI and an extra in two feature films.
As Wells’ professor, academic advisor, and even an actor in one of her films, Dr. Simon Hawkins, director of the Donaghey Scholars Honors Program, described Wells as an intelligent, ambitious, and creative student leader.
“Her list of accomplishments is extraordinary, but it is even more impressive when one realizes that all of these activities are the results of her own initiative,” Hawkins said. “Emily doesn’t sit around and wait; she makes things happen, and when they do happen, she puts in the time to make sure they happen well. Emily is an outstanding student, an outstanding community member, and an outstanding leader. It is only fitting that she wins the award for the most outstanding graduating senior.”
Wells is a well-rounded student who has been involved in a diverse array of activities – from the Cardboard Boat Regatta and Homecoming Court to creating a blog that reviewed Starbucks drinks to crafting and selling handmade jewelry. She has served on the Student Government Association, volunteered with Our House, received a UA Little Rock Sustainability Grant, donated her hair to Locks of Love, and volunteered as a tutor in an after-school program.
During summer 2022, Wells studied intercultural communication at Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici in Florence, and the trip was a bit of a homecoming for her.
“I was born in Naples, Italy, and raised by military parents,” Wells said. “We moved to Warren, Arkansas, when I was three years old because my grandparents lived there. I got to go back to Naples the day after my 20th birthday, and it was a surreal experience to be there again. We also got to take weekend trips to different cities like Rome and Venice.”
Wells has been involved in four capstone projects for mass communication students, the most of any student. Kiel Thorlton, assistant professor of mass communication, said that the breadth of Wells’ work speaks for itself.
“Dystopian Keebler elves, marriage proposals gone wrong, or Arkansas folklore – the creative width of her ideas is matched by their depth,” Thorlton said. “Emily’s leadership, scholarship, citizenship, and most importantly character exemplifies the type of student I want in my classroom and on my sets.”
Well’s own capstone project is a modern take on an old Arkansas ghost story.
“I wanted to do something with Arkansas folklore, and I did a lot of research on the monsters, legends, and ghosts of Arkansas,” Wells said. “I found this ghost story from the Natural Steps, a small community in Pulaski County near Pinnacle Mountain overlooking the Arkansas River. There is a legend about a young bride who lost her husband days after their wedding at the top of Natural Steps. After his death, she put on her bride gown and committed suicide. According to folklore, you can see her ghost at the Natural Steps. I felt really inspired by their story, and I wanted to have more people hear it.”
Wells will be submitting her nine-minute film to film festivals in Arkansas and hopes that it will premiere sometime during the fall. After graduation, Wells will be finishing up a communications internship with the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families through the summer. Afterwards, she will be looking for production assistant and acting jobs. Eventually, Wells would like to work as a producer and director in the film industry.