Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
When he walked at fall commencement on Dec. 9 and officially earned a degree in human sciences/human development and family studies, Lonnie Waller Jr. completed his longtime goal of obtaining a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff – a journey he began nearly 30 years ago. Though he enrolled at UAPB in 1987 as an engineering and electronics major, unforeseen life events quickly put his education on hold.
“In the late summer of 1988 I was on my way back to UAPB campus when I had a blowout on the interstate and had to turn around to my hometown of Texarkana, Arkansas,” Waller said. “When I arrived back home I found my father having a heart attack and rushed him to the hospital. I look at that blowout as a blessing, because my having to turn around helped ensure my father is still alive today.”
After the frightening incident, Waller decided to stay in Texarkana and help with his father’s recovery. Though he continued taking courses at a community college, he never found time to focus all his efforts on completing the remaining coursework between work as an insurance salesman and raising children.
“I always told my kids I would enroll in college again when they completed high school,” he said. “It wasn’t until 2012 when I visited Pine Bluff with my son – who was trying out for the UAPB marching band – that things started to fall in place for my education.”
On the July 2012 visit to the UAPB campus, Waller met Dr. Felicia Taylor, who was then working as project leader for the Department of Human Science’s Delta Obesity Project. Five months later, they were married.
“I credit my wife for my reenrollment at UAPB and most importantly helping me decide on a new career path,” Waller said. “She helped me realized that the field of engineering was just an old dream of mine. The thing I am really interested in and naturally skilled at is helping others.”
Throughout his education in human development and family studies, Waller has worked as a family service advocate for the UAPB Early Head Start-Child Care Partnership (EHC-CCP). Under the guidance of Dr. Marilyn Bailey-Jefferson, executive director of the EHS-CCP and director of the UAPB Child Development Center, Waller assists parents of infants and toddlers at the program’s 15 sites located across southeast Arkansas.
“UAPB’s Early Head Start project offers the invaluable service of full-time childcare,” he said. “My job has been to help parents get back on their feet while their young children are at school. We first identify a parent’s goals – whether that’s finding a new job or going to back to college – and then connect them to the appropriate resources to help guarantee their success. In Arkansas, it can be difficult to be a single parent when trying to get help through government assistance, and I appreciate the opportunity to represent these parents at various state offices and help them get the results that benefit their families.”
Waller said during his education at UAPB, he most appreciated the Department of Human Science’s approach to problem solving.
“Instructors teach students to work together in teams and determine collaborative solutions to problems,” he said. “The most valuable part of this approach is realizing that the success of others largely depends on you, which is a lesson that will go on to benefit students in the workforce. Understanding that your getting behind in a project might negatively affect others helps motivate you to do your best so everyone can succeed.”
The enjoyment Waller gets out of collaborating with and helping others isn’t limited to his work or the classroom. He tries to reach out to other students who might need help, whether they are having trouble staying motivated in their coursework or need someone to point them to the correct university resources.
“Students on campus have mistaken me for a professor several times,” he said. “I tell them I’m a student too, but have offered to help with anything I could. I’ve directed students to the university’s tutoring and library services, various clubs and information on scholarships and internships. I always tell students to pay attention to the bulletin boards across campus because they contain valuable information that is often overlooked.”
Waller commutes over 70 miles to Pine Bluff from his home in Conway, Arkansas, and regularly travels to cities in southeastern Arkansas such as Eudora and Arkadelphia in his work with the EHS-CCP. He adds even more miles to his odometer on Sundays when he preaches at the Church of the Living God in Forrest City, Arkansas.
“My day at UAPB often starts at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 8 p.m.,” he said. “The long days and number of miles I drive between home, school, work and church reassure me of how seriously I take my goal to help others. I travel so much to assist others and that’s what lets me smile at the end of the day.”
Now that he has received his diploma, Waller plans to continue his education and earn a doctoral degree in human development. In the future, he would either like to be a professor of human development or work in student services in order to help young students make the transition from high school to college.
“Overall I’m very thankful for God allowing me to continue my education and help others in doing so,” he said. “I owe a lot to Dr. Marilyn Bailey-Jefferson for all the opportunities she has given me and thank God for allowing me to be a part of her team.”
Dr. Felicia Taylor Waller currently works as a faculty member in UAPB’s Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department. The couple has a nine-year-old son, Zachary Taylor Johnson. Waller has two sons who are working on completing studies at UAPB, LonTerian Waller, a sophomore criminal justice major, and JaLannie Waller, a junior major of political science who plans to reenroll at UAPB next fall. Waller’s daughter, InDigo Henderson, is a senior business management major at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and has an 18-month-old son, Chayce Baker.