So You Want(ed) to Be . . . a Physicist, with Emmaus Holder ’23

News & Spotlights | November 4, 2021
Emmaus Holder ’23 is a section captain of the drumline for the UNC Marching Tar Heels.

Written by Ria Patel ’25, Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team member. The “So You Want(ed) to Be . . .” series shares the stories of scholars who’ve made bold pivots from their intended majors and career aspirations since starting college.

If you enjoy this piece, check out recent features via the sister series, “So You Want to Be . . .” which shares the career stories of alumni who are leading their respective fields and industries—how they got there and what valuable lessons they’ve learned along the way.

Coming into college, Emmaus Holder ’23 knew that he loved to learn about how things worked. In high school, he had fallen in love with STEM and the problem-solving nature of physics. He wanted to pursue the real-life applications of physics and problem solving through his experiences at Carolina.

However, soon after his first physics class at Carolina, Emmaus realized that the discipline may not be a perfect fit for him.

During his second semester, he decided to explore different classes outside of his physics major and beyond STEM, exploring the humanities and soft sciences; soon enough, Emmaus found himself attracted to sociology.

“I wanted to chase after people and tell [their] stories,” Emmaus explained. Sociology was the perfect avenue to do this. Emmaus said he was able to “focus on people” and apply the problem-solving skills typical of hard science fields with curiosity and creativity to drive his new passion.

Emmaus decided to actively pursue opportunities that would allow him to practice these skills of curiosity and storytelling; he recounted both his time biking across the country and teaching English in Djibouti in East Africa: “Living in a different world shapes your perspective,” he said. Sociology’s connection and shifting perspective suddenly came to life in these adventures, turning the discipline into a reality.

These experiences gave Emmaus the confidence to pursue a different path in his future after Carolina: one of human connection and storytelling.

From Topsail to Los Angeles 

On his solo bike ride in summer 2021, Emmaus cycled 4,300 miles over 56 days. (Photo courtesy Emmaus)

On his biking trip, from Topsail Beach, North Carolina, to Los Angeles, he met with hundreds of people with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and their loved ones in order to share their stories and spread awareness about the overlooked condition. 

Emmaus met people that he never would’ve otherwise come across had he not decided to look past his initial plans for college.

His advice for scholars nervous to make the leap to a new major? Keep an open mind to all disciplines and experiences, even ones you might not think you’d enjoy. The Morehead-Cain staff has always supported him in his endeavors to broaden his horizons as well.

“To know what you want to do with the rest of your life is admirable, but dangerous,” he says. “Explore other things; there is value in not knowing.”

About the author

Ria Patel ’25

Ria Patel of Collierville, Tennessee, covers the scholar beat on the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team.

Ria graduated in spring 2021 from St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis. While in high school, the first-year scholar founded INSPIre, an organization focused on adolescent mental health and well-being, and she conducted independent research projects at the University of Memphis, studying working memory and learning conditions.

At Carolina, she plans to pursue a major in neuroscience with minors in business and chemistry, and continue her interest in mental health and wellness.

Ria is also a co-founder of Griatitude Coffee co., a pop-up coffee shop with affordable specialty drinks for students in the Chapel Hill area. Griatitude, led by Ria, was also co-founded by Sarah Chocron ’25, Scholar Media Team member, and Sasha Surkin, a first-year Cato Scholar through the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.