Two Strikes Put Waller in Higher Education
This series spotlights the people who educate Piedmont University students. We ask them about their childhood, their first jobs, and why they love what they do.
New Jersey native Dr. J. Kerry Waller, Dean of the Harry W. Walker College of Business, is a New York Mets fan who loves the business of sports.
Waller earned his undergraduate degree in economics at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, and a teaching certificate alongside it. Fresh out of college, he was a substitute teacher while also running his own baseball card shop.
Unfortunately, his Shoebox Sports Cards company ended with a Major League Baseball strike in 1994-95.
“The market collapsed, absolutely cratered after that,” Waller said.
Waller then taught at the high school level for a while, but another unfortunate event would end that endeavor as well. Teachers in the district had just returned after 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 decided that if he were going to teach, it would be at the college level. He was 30 years old when he began to prepare for the GRE and grad school. He would ultimately complete his PhD at Clemson University.
After working for an insurance company and software solutions company Blackbaud, Waller returned to Dickinson as a visiting professor. When his alma mater offered him a tenured track position teaching business and finance, Waller declined. His true love was and 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 when he came to Piedmont and met Ed Taylor, then dean of the Walker College of Business. Taking over that role himself one day was the furthest thing from Waller’s mind.
“Ed took me under his wing and talked to me about the associate dean’s position. He 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 you make with students,” Taylor said. “Piedmont’s competitive advantage is that we do a good job at that.”
As a first-generation college graduate, Waller profoundly appreciates “the transformative power of education.” Those words were his contribution to the committee that conceived the Vision, Mission, & Core Values for Piedmont.
It was also Waller’s personal experience as an undergraduate at Dickinson.
“I didn’t know the possibilities when I got there, but I changed so much in those four years,” Waller said. “That should be our goal. We should transform these students’ lives, transform what they can be.”