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Meet Your Campus President
We had so much fun interviewing the presidents of Pierce Mortuary Colleges in our “Meet Your Pierce Mortuary College’s Campus President” series. Tony Wallace presides over Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service, in the Decatur (Atlanta area), Georgia’s campus. Our GJCFS campus offers funeral service programs, and President Wallace ensures that the campus runs smoothly and carry the high-quality, real-world funeral service education and training to which Pierce Mortuary Colleges aspires on a daily basis. Tony Wallace answered a few questions about what drew him to GJCFS, a little about himself, his vision for the future of the College and his past experiences.
Let’s meet Campus President Tony Wallace!
When did you join Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service?
I started with Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service on August 17, 2015 as the Campus President. It is a privilege to be a part of an institution that has a rich history in funeral service. It is also exciting to serve with a team that is dedicated to providing top-notch quality education. Education is the key to our future; it is the very fabric that allows each student to compete on the global stage. I am proud to be a part of the professional growth of our staff, faculty, and students.
Tell us about yourself, where did you grow up, what did you do in school?
I was born in Tyler, TX but moved to Fort Worth, TX in 1973, where I graduated from high school. I moved to Arlington, TX in 1985 to complete a Healthcare Administration Program. After completing the program, I worked in leadership roles for the Fort Worth State School and the Neighborhood Health Department.
In 1988, I moved to Atlanta, GA and took a position as Operation Manager with Levinson Chiropractic Center in Roswell, GA. During that same time, I had an opportunity to become a Program Director/Night Supervisor for National Education Centers for three years. This role gave me an opportunity to teach healthcare courses and supervise a team of 10-12 staff and faculty and a student body of over 200 plus students.
I graduated from Anthem College, where I received an Associate of Science in Healthcare in 2005 and a Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management in 2008. Both degrees gave me an opportunity to continue to share best practices, to shape and mold eager minds, and to give back to the community.
In 2009 I graduated from American InterContinental University with a Master’s Degree in Education, with a concentration in Organizational Leadership. I feel honored, humbled, and privileged to have been in education for over 30 years and healthcare for more than 15 years. I owe my success to God, family, mentors, friends, colleagues, and my professors, who all saw things in me that I did not see in myself.
Education has given me an opportunity to serve in the following roles:
- Campus President
- Vice President of Operations
- Regional Director of Education/Academics
- Campus Academic Dean/Director of Education
- Operations Director
- Program Director
- Faculty Member
This has also allowed me to be an integral part of providing quality education and training to many students, staff and faculty over the past 30 years.
Why is your role important?
A president’s role is vast and always changing. Therefore, a president must be an agent of and for change—flexible, with the ability to adapt to their surrounding environments and empower the team to succeed. It is important to have the passion, determination, and dedication to make the hard decisions in order to enhance the lives of others.
It is extremely important to know the strengths and weaknesses of every individual on the team to effectively manage specific outcomes that lead to meeting the mission of the college. Emphasis should be placed on helping students, staff, and faculty reach their goals, but presidents must not be afraid to hire people who might be better than them and should take pride in the accomplishments of those they help along the way.
Finally, Campus Presidents are incredibly ambitious, but never for themselves. However, they are ambitious for the school and possess the experience and knowledge to do what is necessary in service for the college, students, staff, faculty, and the community in which they serve.
From your perspective, what is it that makes the Gupton-Jones campus stand out, makes it special?
The Funeral Service Program is different than programs offered at traditional colleges and universities. Additional items include our rich history, dedicated staff and faculty, our campus culture and environment, and our dedicated alumni. We are known as the “Harvard of the South” for funeral service.
We want our students to value their education, embrace change, overcome obstacles, and appreciate the hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm it takes to become excellent Funeral Directors, Embalmers, and professionals in other service-related careers.
Would you tell us what you love about your job?
There are many things I love about my job. I have an opportunity to change lives, give back to the community, help others reach their full potential, and be a part of a great dynamic and energetic team. I also enjoy meeting other industry leaders during the funeral service conventions, national and regional accreditation workshops, state and governmental conference calls, and local quarterly county education meetings.
Why are students coming to GJCFS as opposed to another college/program?
Our staff and faculty are second to none. We also have a rich history in the funeral service community. We have been in existence since 1920, so we are approaching our centennial, as we will be celebrating our 100-year anniversary in 2020. Our student body can compete on a global stage.
If you had to describe yourself to someone in just a sentence or two, how would you describe yourself?
I have a great passion for helping others reach their full potential. I believe in giving back or sharing the talents and skill sets God gave me.
What is one of your favorite things about Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service?
I enjoy having intellectual and stimulating conversations with the staff and faculty on break and after 4 pm.
What made you choose higher education for your career path?
Actually, my first love was healthcare. My goal was to be a Neurosurgeon; however, due to unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to fulfill that dream. I believe that education was my chosen path. I do not regret the time spent in education. I enjoy being a part of others’ successes and believe that if I am a good steward over what God has given me, everything else will fall into place.
What is the coolest perk about being a college president?
It gives me a broader platform to mentor, shape, and mold minds, help others reach their full potential, develop strategies to take higher education to another level, and work together with other industries for the betterment of mankind.
What has surprised you during your time as a PMC campus president so far?
I wouldn’t say that anything has surprised me to this point. What I would say is that I am excited about the unlimited possibilities the college has when it comes to adding new programs, teaching resources, and additional staff and faculty to fill the upcoming positions due to expansion and growth.
I believe the team is ready to face the endless possibilities, embrace all new programs, and share the spotlight with additional colleagues. This will move the college to another level.
What kind of teaching innovations have you implemented?
The college believes in excellence and understands that in order to provide the students with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to be successful, we need to continue to find ways to accommodate student learning styles. Therefore, we have added the following initiatives:
- Infused Technology into Each Classroom
- Acquired School Van to Practice Removals
- Constructed a large New Selection Room
- Breaking ground on a Chapel
- Implemented New Career Services Playbook
- Added Funeral Directing Clinicals
- Increased Embalming Practical Applications on Campus – Thanks to Mr. Rickey Williams II
- Added Published Tutorial Schedules for All Faculty
- Developed Additional Data Collection Methods to Make Improvements to the Funeral Service Program
What do you perceive as the most critical aspect of Campus Life, with respect to the College’s academic mission?
I believe the most critical aspect of campus life, with respect to the College’s academic mission, is to ensure that we can provide an atmosphere that is conducive for learning. That means we have to focus continually on assessing each of our programs to determine if there need to be changes made on a regularly scheduled basis. Staff and faculty training and development are crucial to the mission.
Community involvement, alumni participation, and a variety of campus activities keep student, staff, and faculty enthusiasm up. By focusing on the items mentioned above, it allows us to produce graduates who can compete on a global scale.
What is one thing people might not know about you?
I am the youngest of six; I enjoy spending time with family and traveling when time permits.
Is there anything that you want to tell your faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service?
Yes, first, I would like for my staff and faculty to know I appreciate them, I value their input, I want them to be successful in life. I want to be a resource, a listening ear, a mentor, a motivator, and a leader for them. I would love to be a part of their goals to reach their full potential.
I would like for the student body to know that I appreciate them; I believe in them, and I believe they have the capacity to be great. I would like for them to understand the importance in adding value, and the reason why I push them is because I see continued excellence in their future.
I would like to thank the alumni and friends of the college for their continued support. I truly appreciate the time they devote to our students, staff, and faculty. Without their contributions, the college would not benefit from their knowledge, skills, and abilities.
Why would you encourage more alumni to become involved with GJCFS during your presidency?
Alumni are a valuable part of the institution. Because they are graduates of the College, they understand what it takes to be successful while in school. Therefore, they become mentors and role models for the students who are currently enrolled. They can share their school experience as well as the experience gained from working in the industry.
What’s the best piece of advice you received while a college student yourself?
Stay focused and true to not only yourself, but also to the goals you have set for yourself. Be grounded and rooted in your faith. Remember two things:
- To whom much is given, much is required.
- If you continue to be a good steward over what God has given you, bigger and brighter things will always come your way.
What advice do you have for GJCFS students to make the most of their term here?
Stay focused and true to not only yourself, but, the goals you have set for yourself. Be grounded and rooted in your faith.
What advice do you have for GJCFS students after they graduate?
Get involved in your career as soon as possible. Attend local and national funeral service conventions. Join as many associations as you can; this will provide excellent networking opportunities. Seek out a mentor who is already an industry leader. Always keep an open mind and remember that you are here to serve.
What advice do you have for GJCFS students to be the best in funeral service after they graduate?
Study before you take the National Boards. Complete your apprenticeship in a timely manner. Take your new-found career seriously.
What should students know about GJCFS? What’s your secret sauce?
We are an institution that is dedicated to serving the needs of our students and the community. Our secret sauce is our team, with our drive, dedication, and enthusiasm to provide an environment that is conducive for learning.
What is it about the campus and PMC that inspired you to apply for the presidency role at Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service?
I have worked in larger institutions for many years and was looking for a smaller environment that could benefit from my credentials and experience in higher education. I have also been fascinated with how non-profit institutions work.
What’s been your journey to becoming a PMC campus president?
I have been in higher education now for more than 30 years. It has been a privilege to serve and to help individuals reach their goals. During this journey, I have been blessed to serve as an Instructor, Program Director, Director of Education, Campus Academic Dean, Regional Director of Education, Vice President, and now Campus President.
Each professional component has given me an opportunity to work with people from different ethnic backgrounds, different age groups, socio-economic classes, and cultures. In my humble opinion, this has made contributions to the man I have become and the leader I aspire to be.
What’s the best part of being a campus president?
The ability to make changes on a larger scale that helps to promote positive outcomes for staff, faculty, students, and the community we serve.
From your perspective, what is it that makes the Atlanta campus stand out, makes it special?
That’s an easy answer:
- The staff
- The faculty
- The student body
- The campus
What’s the best piece of advice you ever were given?
There were two things that stuck with me.
- Always keep an open mind to the possibilities that are ahead of you.
- Be fast to listen and slow to speak.
What’s a favorite TV show, recent movie you’ve seen or book you’ve read?
The most recent movie I’ve seen is Black Panther.
What is a hidden talent, favorite hobby or little-known fact people don’t know about you?
I believe my hidden talent is my ability to help others reach their full potential. One of my favorite hobbies is bowling, and I also like to travel in my spare time.
What sets your leadership style apart?
I love to empower others to succeed. I feel humbled, privileged, and proud when people ask me to be their mentor or to help them achieve their goals. I have been told throughout the years by supervisors, colleagues, employees, students, friends, and family that I have a talent for coaching, mentoring, and helping others met their desired goals.
What are your most memorable awards in your career?
To me, the most memorable awards were the ones received from my students and my colleagues as well as the communities I have had an opportunity to serve. The awards meant that there was a genuine feeling of support and appreciation and served as a testament to the commitment and dedication shown on all levels.
It also shows that there was a mutual respect, love, and consideration for each other that made any and all collaboration efforts seamless, valuable, and well worth the time and efforts displayed.
If you had a chance to address every student and you had a few things to say, what would you tell them?
- Always be the best that you can be.
- Stay true to yourself and your beliefs.
- To whom much is given, much is required.
- In life it is important to be a good steward over the things you have been given, for the rewards will be plentiful.
- Be smart enough to know what you don’t know and have enough wisdom to know when to ask for help.
- Know that being a servant is the greatest gift of all.
What are three things you want the community to know about GJCFS?
- Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service is the “Harvard of the South”
- We are dedicated to serving our staff, faculty, students, and the community
- We take great pride in being a part of our students’ educational goals
How can the community get involved?
Gupton-Jones College of Funeral Service is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and all donations are 100% tax - deductible. We rely on the support from our generous alumni and friends to help improve our college’s academic services year after year.
You can also invest in the future of our mortuary science college today -- your donation can make a difference for our campus! Gifts big and small strengthen our college, create significant opportunities for our students and faculty, and help secure the future of funeral service education. You can make a meaningful impact through a gift today.
Our alumni can work with the college to promote mentorship programs, to provide coaching for success initiatives, and to become guest speakers as well.
Tell us a little about your faculty at GJCFS.
The team at Gupton-Jones College drives our success. They bring to the table a unique style and quality that you rarely find in most institutions. Each person contributes a certain pizzazz and style to the campus.
They are dedicated and enthusiastic about providing an atmosphere that is conducive for learning. They have a great command of the subject matter, and they understand the importance of making sure they meet expected and unexpected challenges every day.
I feel privileged to be a part of such a great team and look forward to doing my part to help ensure they have the necessary tools and resources needed to be the best that they can be on a daily basis.
Tell us about your family and what you enjoy doing when you aren’t working.
God has granted me the privilege of being able to take care of my mother, who is 80 years old. I am the youngest of six children. Even though only my mom and I are in Georgia, we get an opportunity to travel to Texas to visit my sisters twice a year.
When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my mother, friends, and loved ones. I also enjoy traveling, playing pool, bowling, attending local plays, going to the movies, and running in the park, as well as simply spending quiet times at home.
You just broke a record on the number of applicants. What do you attribute that to and what more can be done to ensure you are attracting the most competitive students and the ones you accept choose GJCFS?
It takes a village to make a difference. The team at Gupton-Jones College understands that it takes all of us to be a positive force for good. Therefore, each individual employee has a unique role to play when it comes to the enrollment process. Having a winning customer service attitude, along with a heightened enthusiasm for what we do also contributes to the overall growth of the college.
We are focused on providing a student-centered approach to learning. We combine extraordinary faculty with real-world studies. We have an exceptionally diverse student population and an unparalled support for student goals, which is why students choose to come to Gupton-Jones College.
Therefore, our goal is to increase our marketing efforts for the purpose of introducing Gupton-Jones College to the world. We believe we have something of value to offer those who choose a career in funeral service. We welcome yon and we welcome the challenge to help you gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to be a contributing participant in the funeral service industry.
Effecting change can be especially hard at colleges. What have you learned from your past experiences?
I have had an opportunity to work for different colleges and universities over the past 30 years, and what I have found that at some point we all become are somewhat resistant to various types of changes.
However, change is inevitable; the world continues to evolve, creating many new and exciting pathways. If we expect to be a viable force in higher education, we must continually seek way to meet the demands of the communities in which we serve.
Is there any one experience that you can recall that shaped your philosophy on higher education?
There were several; however, I would have to say that my mentors and coaches played a vital role in shaping my philosophy on higher education. They provided an atmosphere that was built on mutual respect, trust, dedication, determination, and enthusiasm. Years later, I found it to be a great recipe for success.
What was your strangest job in college?
I received my degrees late in life. Fortunately, I was already working in higher education at the time.
What issue in higher education troubles you?
The issues that trouble me do not start in higher education; they start when students begin and leave the secondary education arena. We are finding that more and more students are not prepared for higher education.
Who’s your favorite ball player?
My favorite basketball player was Grant Hill.
You worked at several colleges/universities. What experiences and people have shaped you over the course of your career?
I have worked at several colleges and universities over the past 30 years. There have been numerous influential people who played crucial roles in helping me to reach my personal and professional goals.
You have undertaken efforts in recent years to create an inclusive learning environment. What positives do you see in creating this kind of an environment and what do you believe are the long-term benefits in higher learning?
As mentioned earlier, it takes a village to make a difference. As with any organization, it takes everyone involved to move the organization to the next level. When people feel like they are a part of the organization or team, they tend to place more value in the success of the mission or overall goals.
The long-term benefits of inclusion, involvement, and investment are vital for the organization. There is a great opportunity for the organization to meet its mission, goals, and vision while reaching out to a wider community.
What advice do you offer first-year students?
- Determine your end goals
- Stay focused on meeting your goals
- Evaluate your daily routine, then establish an effective study plan
- Carve out time to enjoy life and have fun
- Be the best you can be at all times
- Be a good steward over what you have been given
Why are students coming to GJCFS as opposed to another college/program?
I feel that our team at Gupton-Jones College of staff and faculty gives us a distinct advantage over other colleges and programs. They bring to the table experience, skills, and personal attention you cannot get at most institutions. Each member’s contribution to the campus makes us stronger as individuals and as a team.
The goal of our staff and faculty is to always maintain an atmosphere that is conducive for learning while delivering their expert understanding of the subject matter and ensuring our students come away from Gupton-Jones armed with that knowledge. While there are always challenges in higher education, our team’s dedication to providing a quality education for all students enables them to meet those challenges.
Tell us about your craziest/most fun/random memory at GJCFS thus far?
I enjoy the conversations we have as a team during our down-time or after the school has closed for the day. We get an opportunity to share funny stories and talk about unique and interesting things that have either happened that day or to us early on in life.
I also enjoy the freshman picnics! I get an opportunity to have fun with the students, staff, and faculty outside of the classroom environment. The staff, faculty, and student body get an opportunity to breathe, have fun, and simply relax. We all need to have a moment to simply have fun.
Is there anything else you’d like us to know about you?
Yes, I enjoy spending time talking to others about a variety of topics. I believe everyone has a story to tell; all we have to do is listen.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Yes—always remember, everyone has something to contribute to your overall success, so be prepared to embrace their contributions.