Two Strikes Put Waller in Higher Education
New Jersey native Dr. J. Kerry Waller, Dean of the Harry W. Walker Walker College of Business, loves the business of sports.
The New York Mets fan’s first job after college was owner of a baseball card shop, Shoebox Sports Cards. A yellow and red company sign graces a top shelf in his Camp Hall office. But a Major League Baseball strike abruptly ended the 1994-95 season along with Waller’s entrepreneurial venture.
“The market collapsed, absolutely cratered after that,” he said.
Waller had long thought about teaching. The undergraduate degree in economics he earned at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania was accompanied by a teaching certificate. While he still had the card shop, his student teaching experience included working as a substitute teacher. But it was in a district coming off a bitter strike.
“People five years into their career were counting the days to retirement,” he said. “I just didn’t want to live like that, so I shied away from public education.”
Waller held onto the thought of teaching, but at the college level. He was 30 years old when he began to prepare for the GRE and getting into grad school. He went on to complete his PhD at Clemson University.
Along the path that led to Piedmont, Waller was a technology specialist for Chubb Insurance and Blackbaud, a company that provides financial and fundraising technology to nonprofits. He also returned Dickinson as a visiting professor. His alma mater offered him a tenured track position teaching business and finance, but Waller’s real love is economics, a subject he said is “all about understanding and explaining behaviors.”
Waller brought that love and an affinity for the South with him nearly a decade ago when he came to Piedmont and met Ed Taylor, then associate dean of the Business School. Taking over that role himself one day was the furthest thing from Waller’s mind then and up until about five or so years ago.
“Ed started grooming me and talking to me about the associate dean’s position and made me think about some things that at the time just didn’t seem possible,” Waller said.
Taylor saw in Waller a “real deal” academic who would cherish interaction with students.
“No. 1, he was totally qualified in one of the disciplines in the business school, and he valued the linkages that you make with students,” Taylor said. “Piedmont University’s competitive advantage is that we do a good job at that.”
As a first-generation college graduate, Waller has a deep appreciation for “the transformative power of education.” In fact, those words were his contribution when he was assigned to the committee that conceived the Vision, Mission, & Core Values for Piedmont.
It was his personal experience at Dickinson.
“I didn’t know what the possibilities were when I got there,” Waller said. “That should be our goal. We should transform these students’ lives and transform what they’re able to be.”
Across the campus and beyond, Waller is well liked not because he is a nice guy (he is) but because he has proven himself to be an organizer, facilitator, friend, and mentor.
The new dean with a passion for the power of education and love for the business of sports helped organize a bowling team several years ago for Piedmont faculty, staff, and their family members and friends. He is often called upon to fill the role as anchor when his team needs a strike, though the outings are more for camaraderie than competition.
He brings that sense of esprit de corps to campus. Waller volunteered to lead the Center for Teaching and Learning, which provides professional development for faculty and staff so they can better deliver meaningful opportunities for student growth and transformation. Taylor said Waller sought out those fulfilling Piedmont’s mission so they could share their ideas and best practices with others.
“It’s unheard of for an economics professor in the business school to be the person to stick their hand up and say, ‘I want to run the Center for Teaching and Learning,’” Taylor said. “He’s doing something that he didn’t have to do, and he has been doing that for a number of years. That’s the mark of a special person—somebody who does more than they have to and keeps on doing it.”