Erskine senior enlisted to chronicle judicial district history

Posted on April 27, 2011

Erskine College senior Howard Wellons has a lot to do. An English major with a minor in political science, he is an active member of the Euphemian Literary Society who participated in the recent Darlington Cup Debate. He’s also applying to law school.

So why would he spend time working on a history of a judicial district in North Carolina? It all goes back to a summer job in his home state following his sophomore year.

“I worked for a senior judge in North Carolina, Graham Mullen,” Wellons said. “I wasn’t a law student, so I wasn’t able to do jobs interns were able to do. He gave me other assignments — for example, redrafting emergency procedures for pandemics.”

Then the judge handed Wellons over to the clerk of court, Frank Johns. “Frank Johns started giving me different jobs. We hit it off and he rehired me for the next summer.”

And that’s how Wellons, whose hometown is Gastonia, N.C., wound up with a daunting project during the summer before his senior year.

“It was a history of the judicial district—a book,” he recalled. “It was terrifying, but I just decided to dive in. I have been interviewing every judge in the district.”

He’s made a lot of progress. He estimates that he worked about 30 hours a week on the project from midway through the summer until his return to Erskine in the fall.

He began an independent study in February with Grady Patterson Professor of Politics Dr. Ashley Woodiwiss, and he will be working on the book as part of that study. So, as Wellons begins composing and writing, Woodiwiss will be editing.

“While I have supervised a number of research projects by undergraduate students at Erskine and at prior institutions, Howard’s project is indeed unique in terms of its origin, its topic, and its intended result,” Woodiwiss said.

Professor of English Joan Little, who has served as a faculty advisor to Wellons, sees the project in the context of his many other endeavors as an Erskine student.

“Howard Wellons embodies the Renaissance spirit of a true liberal arts student,” she said. “While excelling in his English major, he has pursued his interest in government through summer internships that are leading to his publication of a book about North Carolina judges.”

Little noted that Wellons “honed his skill in public speaking by participating in several Erskine Players productions,” and also “reached beyond the Erskine campus to broaden his knowledge through European travels on his own and an inspiring semester of studying English at Oxford University.”

With his semester abroad behind him and the end of his senior year looming, Wellons focuses on meeting his latest challenge.

“I’ve completed the interviews, and I have transcripts of the interviews, some of them 35 pages long,” Wellons said. “I’ve researched the history of each judge, going to different libraries, other judges, interviewing family members.”

As for the writing itself, Wellons admitted early in the semester that he hadn’t yet begun that task, but since then he has submitted sample chapters to Woodiwiss.

“I am guiding him in terms of his writing style and research methodology to ensure that he produces a finished product of professional quality,” Woodiwiss said.

Johns, the clerk of court who launched Wellons on the project, “has supervised what I’ve been doing, but to a great extent he has trusted me to do the work and complete it on my own,” Wellons said.

Woodiwiss takes a similar approach. “He has a solid research plan and timetable,” he said. “With his work ethic I am confident he will complete the project in time and well.”

“I’ll probably be finishing up this job this summer,” Wellons said. “It’s not a small project. It will probably be 120 to 200 pages. This will be my senior thesis for political science.”

He plans to complete his studies at Erskine in August.

“When I remarked to Howard that he had experienced some extraordinary educational opportunities in spite of Erskine’s small size, he replied that he had enjoyed those opportunities because of Erskine’s small size,” Little said, adding, “Howard has actively cultivated the advantages of his education at Erskine—a small school with big opportunities.”