While speaking at her Ankeny, Iowa, high school graduation ceremony, Elle Wignall encouraged her classmates to forge their own paths when following their dreams—a practice that would serve Wignall herself well in the years to come.
Wignall broke with family tradition when she chose a path to attend the University of Iowa instead of Iowa State University.
“I’m the black sheep of the family as a result,” Wignall says. “I just fell in love with Iowa City. I adored the Pentacrest area of campus as well as the blending of the university with the local community. My gut told me that the University of Iowa was my college home.”
Admission to a highly-ranked nursing program and being recognized with an Old Gold Scholarship were icing on the cake.
Completion of advanced placement (AP) credit in high school allowed Wignall room for electives apart from the rigorous nursing curriculum, which led her to a non-fiction writing course with Kerry Howley, assistant professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“I hadn’t taken myself seriously as a writer until I took this course. Kerry helped me to feel more confident in my writing,” she says.
Writing changed from a hobby to a passion for Wignall—a passion she cultivated during a six-week Irish Writing Program study abroad experience in Dublin, Ireland.
“I gained some serious self-discipline when it came to reading deeply and exploring my writing,” she says. “The experience made me more reflective and observant, both of which help me in my writing.”
Part-time writing jobs for the UI Department of Chemistry, The Daily Iowan, and Little Village magazine solidified Wignall’s decision to change majors from nursing to English.
“I found that technical writing was a good fit,” she says. “It’s a different way to help others through the creative use of language to help readers learn and access new information.”
Wignall found a mentor in Inara Verzemnieks, another UI assistant professor of English, and embraced opportunities to attend author readings, including Junot Diaz at the Englert Theatre and David Sedaris at the Iowa Memorial Union.
“I was able to meet so many great writers. You don’t need to go to a big city for these kinds of opportunities—they are right here at the UI.”
Following graduation from the UI in 2013, Wignall returned to the country that helped to spark her love of writing—this time as a nanny in Cork, Ireland. When her work visa expired, Wignall knew her path would lead her back.
“I missed my family, and Iowa is home,” she says.
As a business communications consultant at Wells Fargo in Des Moines, Wignall continues to forge her own path.
“English majors might not immediately think of an employer like Wells Fargo, but it's been a great way to use my technical writing skills,” she says. “I'm able to help translate business processes in order to make them more readable and searchable by bankers to provide better service to Wells Fargo's customers.”
Des Moines has been a good fit for Wignall, too.
“It’s growing and there is so much to do in terms of art, culture, exhibits, and great restaurants,” she says.