Wilmington Couple Takes Education by the Horns

Wilmington Couple Takes Education by the Horns

WILMINGTON- The University of Mount Olive seeks to transform education and transform lives. Lillian and Mark Lewis of Wilmington have embraced this transformational process and, at age 41, have returned to higher education to achieve their bachelor’s degrees together.

Mark grew up in Fayetteville and graduated from high school in 1992. He enrolled at East Carolina University, where he attended two years before deciding to drop out of school to focus on work. He found himself bouncing around different jobs throughout the following years. He then relocated to Wilmington in 1997 to work for National Welders. Mark then married, had two kids, Kendall and Anthony, and later divorced.

Lillian graduated 10th in her high school and was later accepted to attend the University of North Carolina Greensboro. However, Lillian decided to attend a local community college in Gaston County to save money. She received an associate’s degree in radio and television broadcast technology in 1994. She was the first of her family to achieve a college degree.

“In most markets, radio doesn’t really pay a lot of money.  I decided five years later to go back to community college and get an AAS in medical office technology,” Lillian recalled. “After getting my second degree in 2001, I continued to working part time and full time in radio, but also worked at a medical office processing health insurance claims.”

Lillian and Mark eventually met through Lillian’s brother. The two transitioned from friends to a relationship and married in April of 2011. Two years later, in March of 2013 the couple had their first child together.

Then, a whirlwind of personal hardships poured into the couple’s life. Lillian lost her stepbrother, two pregnancies, and her father. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the couple decided to focus their energy on their education.

“We discussed returning to school and decided that it would benefit us both. We knew it would be difficult with kids, but decided it would be worth it in the long run. I always wanted to get my bachelor’s degree, but life always seemed to get in the way,” said Lillian.

Mark works as the district operations and branch manager at Airgas Inc. (formally National Welders), and Lillian works as the office manager for Brunswick County Social Services. With their employment backgrounds, the couple decided to pursue their BS degrees in business administration: human resources management.  Even working full time with family responsibilities, the couple embraced the opportunity for a college education and enrolled at UMO in the fall of 2014.

Mark said, “Having my wife attend school with me is wonderful!  We challenge each other, quiz each other riding down the road, and help each other by introducing different perspectives on the subject at hand.”

In September of this year, the couple gave birth to their fourth child, Ezekiel, who joined two-year old Samuel, nine-year old Anthony, and twelve-year old Kendall. Lillian still attended classes and completed assignments throughout her pregnancy.

“I went into the hospital on a Saturday to have the baby. Homework and a test were due on Sunday. Since we work hard to keep our grades up, we knew we had to get this work done,” said Lillian. “Mark brought our laptops to the hospital. He sat in the chair, and I was in the bed, holding the baby with one arm while typing my homework with the other.”

The couple is set to graduate in December of 2017. When asked who has the higher GPA, Mark smiled and said, “Actually, my wife does, but not by much! I have a 3.855 and she has 3.909.  I will catch her though!”

Their experiences at UMO have ultimately transformed the couple’s education and hope for future careers.

“In my current position, I face human resource issues on a daily basis. I realize the need and importance human resources are to a company and would love to pursue a career in this field,” noted Mark.”

“This experience has shown me that I am still very capable and able to excel in education,” added Lillian. “I think our time at UMO also has strengthened our relationship. We’ve gone through a great deal during this process, but we have maintained our commitment to our education and our family.”

The University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The University, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, Research Triangle Park, Washington, Jacksonville, and in Smithfield at Johnston Community College.  For more information, visit old.umo.edu.