Alumni Profile: Dr. Tonya Waller
Dr. Tonya Waller is a Director at the University of Kansas GEAR UP: Topeka Achievement and Assessment Institute. Waller, c’93, EdD’18, is also a Leaders & Innovators Award chair for the KU Black Alumni Network.
What’s an experience that’s shaped your professional career journey. What did you learn?
An experience that has shaped my professional career journey has been working for the Center for Educational Opportunity Programs (CEOP) at KU for the past 18 years. I started my professional career as a classroom teacher, and when I was ready for a change, I stumbled upon the GEAR UP program through KU CEOP. The work I do, the support I receive from colleagues and the mentoring I have received from my supervisor, Dr. Ngondi Kamatuka, have literally changed my professional life and my trajectory. I love my work, I respect my colleagues and I feel seen and valued by my bosses. This is a huge professional win because so many people dread going to work on Monday mornings, and I never feel that way.
What resources or communities positively impacted your student experience at KU?
The Office of Minority Affairs (now Multicultural Affairs) and the Black Student Union (BSU) were saving graces for me during my time as an undergraduate student at KU. I came to KU from Brooklyn, NY as a first-generation college student and the culture shock was real. I found my people through BSU and I found my voice and my activism with the assistance of OMA. I will always cherish my time at KU, and believe I would have left if I hadn’t found these communities of support.
In celebration of Black History Month, who has had a significant impact on you in your personal or professional life?
On a personal level, my parents have always been a big influence in my life, as they always have and continue to make me feel like I can do anything. They have always been my biggest cheerleaders throughout my life, and that has given me the confidence to try new things. Professionally, my supervisor, Dr. Ngondi Kamatuka (Director of CEOP) has been incredibly influential in my professional growth and development.
You can learn more about the KU Black Alumni Network at kualumni.org/ban.