John W. Wells
Dr. John W. Wells became the twenty-second president of Emory & Henry College on July 1, 2019 and quickly pursued enhancements to the institution’s liberal arts mission that have led to dramatic improvements in enrollment, facilities, reputational measures, fundraising and program growth.
During his consistent and faithful leadership at Emory & Henry, the college achieved historical record enrollment, including both undergraduate and graduate students, in fall 2021 and fall 2022. In 2023, the College achieved its largest undergraduate student population in 20 years. Meanwhile, the College has dramatically enhanced its profile through new and enhanced programs and physical spaces that underscore Emory & Henry’s historic mission to serve its region while changing student lives.
A visionary and strategist, Wells worked closely with the Board of Trustees and his leadership team to execute a three-year strategic plan that included the creation of a School of Business with the hiring of a founding dean and the renovation of historic Carriger Hall; the launch of the innovative van Vlissingen Career Center, which is led by a seasoned director who has brought corporate connections to rural Southwest Virginia; the transition to NCAA and Division II athletics with membership in the South Atlantic Conference; a major expansion and renovation of the Paul Adrian Powell III Student Success Center; the creation of a School of Nursing to support the integration of health sciences on the E&H campus in Marion, Virginia; the addition of a master’s degree in mental health counseling; and the ongoing adoption of hybrid and online opportunities for faculty members to meet ever-changing student demand.
Currently, Emory & Henry is pursuing support of its Collective Connections Campaign, which already has led to the construction of a new 96-bed student apartment building; ground breaking for a multi-sport complex; and a major naming gift to support the development of a new equestrian center.
In addition, Wells has presided over the development of new assets and programs designed to enhance community life: a new outdoor lighted Sports Court; the Blue & Gold Pavilion for networking and engaging events; a campus walking trail; and flex days for employees to support mental wellness.
As president, Wells also has helped enhance the reputations of many of the College’s signature programs: the Semester on the Appalachian Trail program, the only such academic endeavor in the country; a 22-time nationally ranked championship equestrian program; a $23 million visual and performing arts center; the 75-acre Barlett-Crowe Field Station for research in environmental science; a liberal arts-based engineering program; and the Appalachian Center for Civic Life.
Wells’ leadership has contributed to the consistent endorsement of the institution’s reputation for high quality. Emory & Henry is among only 43 colleges in the country named as a “College That Changes Lives” and consistently ranked among Best Colleges in U.S. News and World Report, Washington Monthly, Virginia Living Top Schools and Universities, College of Distinction, and Great Value Colleges.
Wells joined Emory & Henry in 2017, when he was first appointed as provost and dean of faculty after having served as the chief academic officer at three higher education institutions. He served as associate general secretary for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the worldwide United Methodist Church and as executive secretary of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of the United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He served for seven years as executive vice president and chief academic officer at Mars Hill University in western North Carolina, where he provided oversight of the divisions of enrollment, academics, student development and student success.
Previously, he served as provost for four years at Young Harris College, a United Methodist-related institution located in the mountains of northeast Georgia, and during one of those years served as interim president. For twelve years, he was on the political science faculty at Carson-Newman University, where he also directed the university’s honors program and was dean of the social science division. A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Dr. Wells earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Tennessee. He also holds a master’s degree in political science from UT and a bachelor’s degree in history from Carson-Newman University.
His wife, Shannon Earle, joined Emory & Henry College in July 2021 in the Advancement Office having previously served as chief of staff at the University of North Carolina Asheville. The couple has two adult children, Garland and Molly.