I met Emily on my family’s first Sunday at University. My son, Caden, was anxious about entering a new classroom; he was on the brink of tears. Emily navigated her first interaction with Caden with the skill of a seasoned teacher, finding the sweet spot in the delicate balance between confidence and compassion. He was in great hands. After a few weeks passed, I remember asking a friend what grade Emily taught and at what school. I was shocked to find out that Emily was still a student.
When I asked Emily to tell me a little bit about herself during our interview she humbly assured me that she was just a run-of-the-mill college student. “Nothing much to see here,” I imagined her saying. The follow up question involved her studies, hobbies, jobs, volunteer work… what did she spend her days doing? This is where my first suspicions proved true: there is nothing average about Emily Nichols.
Emily is a Trinity University freshman working towards a degree in Arts and Teaching, and later plans to earn her Masters in Arts and Educational Leadership in hopes of fulfilling her dream in becoming an elementary principal. She works as a Visitors Associate at the Witte Museum and as an intern under Principal Blanca Hermann at Beard Elementary School, where she plays an integral role, implementing a new kindness curriculum schoolwide. It’s hard to imagine Emily having much free time, but she insists she does and spends it playing the clarinet in Trinity’s Stage Band, the saxophone in the university’s Stand Band and the hand bells in another university ensemble. Emily, a former Clark High School Varsity Bowling team member, now serves as the team’s coach. She also enjoys binge watching Netflix shows and spending time with friends. Again, I am certain, there is nothing average about Emily Nichols.
It appears Emily’s gift for service might be genetic as her family members can be seen across the University campus serving in different capacities. Emily’s mom, Amy Nichols and her fiancé, Patrick Siress, worship on north campus where Patrick is an usher and floor manager. Emily speaks warmly of Patrick’s daughter Taylor as a sister and friend, as she does of her sister Kylie, the daughter of Emily’s dad, Walt Nichols, a lighting technician on north campus, and step-mom Kerry Nichols, a children’s ministry volunteer.
During her sophomore year of high school, Emily was given a deep desire to teach Sunday School. She admitted she wasn’t exactly sure what she was getting into when she agreed to teach “First Grade Hope” and remembers the learning curve to be steeper than she expected, but regardless of how she felt that first day, Emily taught the same group of students every Sunday for the next three years. She mentions how she refers to this group of kids as “her kids,” which, she laughs, has often confused people when she’s mentioned them in passing.
Julie and Randy Baldwin, University members, have much to say about their son Reed’s experience during his three years under Emily’s care: “Emily created a sacred space for Reed to learn and grow. Her willingness to teach was a gift to our family. Reed blossomed under Emily’s leadership, becoming a more confident and compassionate leader himself. We love Emily so much, we hired her to be our nanny.”
The Baldwins also agree: there is nothing average about Emily Nichols.
Others recognized her giftedness, and Emily was asked to tackle additional ministry roles. Having previously served as a student liaison for the Vacation Bible School planning committee, Emily decidedly asked for a leadership position in 2017. In doing so, she emphasized her desire to be treated as an adult, understanding this required adhering to an equal measure of accountability. She describes this opportunity as one that was critical to her confidence.
Perhaps a most unexpected byproduct of Emily’s commitment to her calling is the impact she had on her boyfriend, Chris Wong. Chris was often frustrated at having to fight for Emily’s attention with all of her many interests, but it was the volunteer work that irked him the most. She wasn’t getting paid for this; what was the point? Emily, in wisdom well beyond her years, knew that Chris would simply have to see to believe, so she invited him to teach alongside her. He agreed, but was clear he would not teach, just assist. Emily remembers how much more she could accomplish during class time with Chris providing an extra set of hands. They made a great team. Over time, Emily’s infectious love for teaching inspired Chris. He was beginning to understand. He was building relationships, witnessing growth and change in students’ lives and even within himself. It was through his time spent in class with Emily each Sunday morning that Chris’s relationship with the Lord began to blossom.
Fast forward to August 2018. Emily heads to college and makes the hard decision to give up “her kids.” She knew it was important to fully invest in her life at Trinity, and she was confident that the Lord cared for “her kids” more than she ever could. During the summer, Chris approached Emily with an idea. He was ready to teach. Emily admits she was a mixed bag of emotions, sad and jealous, but also grateful for the ways in which the Lord was providing for this class. She had been worried about how her students would deal with the transition. Chris’s willingness and excitement to teach this particular group of kids brought her great comfort.
Now Emily has found a new church home and is hoping to continue to become more involved in the coming months. In fact, she hopes to play an instrumental part in the creation of an on-campus Bible study. Emily is fiercely determined to leave the world better than she found it. Once again, there is nothing average about Emily Nichols because she’d never settle for it. “We can always do better,” she says. And we will.