Wayne Jones, chair of the occupational safety and health department, dressed in regalia for President Larry Minks’ investiture ceremony.
David Reagan, Staff Writer/Photographer
This month for the teacher feature, I sat down with Dr. Wayne Jones, the chair of the occupational safety and health department, to write what he called “the only biography of Wayne Jones that would ever be written.”
I wanted to find out more about the man behind the desk and the story beyond the plaques on the wall, how Jones came to be chair of the department and a professor for the past 16 years.
Jones was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas where he lived until his parents moved at the start of middle school. They moved to the small town of Idabel, a mere 95 miles from the town of Durant, where he spent the rest of his adolescence, graduating from Idabel High School in 1979.
Jones, like many current SE students, did not originally plan to attend Southeastern, but after several visits to the nearby university said he could not help but like the school and the town. He finally gave in to the fact that Southeastern was the place for him.
Dr. Jim Cunningham, currently teaching his last semester in the safety department, was Jones’ official academic adviser and unofficial mentor who often invited him over to his house for dinner.
Jones spoke fondly of all of his teachers at Southeastern saying, “For the most part I liked all of them. They truly made the biggest impact on my life.”
Looking back, he said he appreciates these teachers because they pushed him to excel in everything he did. Literally 36 hours after his graduation from Southeastern in 1983, Jones said he found himself sitting in the first day of classes at the University of Central Missouri, starting on his master’s degree with hardly a night’s sleep in between.
After graduating from UCM, he got a job in safety, designing airports. He then moved back down to the Dallas area to work as a safety systems engineer, which he soon found to be very unpleasant. “To be honest, I’m not even quite sure what I did,” said Jones. “All I know is that I just worked a lot with computers and I hated it.”
But Jones said this experience isn’t uncommon for graduates. “You can’t expect the first job you get after graduation to be this perfect dream job,” he said. “You have to be patient.”
The Dallas job ended after two years, and he enrolled in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he graduated in 1988. As an ordained minister, he then worked with churches for six years, mostly at First Baptist Church in Brownfield, Texas.
In 1994, Jones was asked to come back to Southeastern, this time as an adjunct professor. “I love college,” he said. “After all the loans, I was excited to finally get paid to go to school.”
Rather than choosing to make more money in his safety profession, he chose to be a teacher. “I love being the facilitator of learning,” said Jones. “I considered it such a noble profession and plus I enjoyed doing it. I wanted to teach and watch my students succeed as mine did for me. I can tell you that every letter I get from a graduate is proof of that and is completely worth it.”
He went on to finalize his schooling in 2002, receiving his doctorate from Texas A&M Commerce. Jones now has enough plaques to cover all walls with awards such as Outstanding Safety Educator Award, the highest award in his profession given yearly to one person among 34,000 individuals.
“I have a passion for everything I do,” said Jones. “You have to love whatever it is you are doing and pursue it until the end. I always made an effort to go the extra mile, and I finish what I started.”
He encourages diversity within one’s career, educationally, culturally and in general. “Dad told me to learn how to be a barber just in case the whole ‘education thing’ didn’t work out for me,” said Jones. “This is the one sentiment I share with my father. Everybody needs to find a trade in addition to their thinking job.”
Jones is an ordained minister, a pilot, a frequent traveler and explorer, a licensed barber, a college professor, a career professional, a bookworm, a mentor to many and a successful entrepreneur who happens to have a doctorate.
“I love to not only be able to teach and mold minds but be able to actually use my hands to build stuff like working on the car, doing your house’s own wiring or plumbing, wield a shovel or simply build a birdhouse with your bare hands,” said Jones.
“The point is you need to be practical in everything you do, balancing your professional life with your personal life,” Jones added. “You may try to pinpoint me as a teacher, but I do many other things. I pride myself in that.”
It might seem that with the book knowledge of 305 credit hours of college and an amazing career workload, he would be a hermit, but in fact Jones said you would be hard pressed to find him at home when school is not in session. “If I have a few days off or along weekend, I have to get out,” he said. “I can’t stay in the house all day. I love to travel and see new things.”
Jones said one of his favorite travel destinations in New York City, from listening to jazz in the French Quarter to the museums and Broadway plays.
“Any given holiday, you’ll find me in downtown San Francisco sitting on the rooftop of my towering hotel, with friends from around the world, watching the glimmering night lights of the Golden Gate Bridge or possibly sitting under the shade of a palm tree in Key West with a beer and cigar in hand,” said Jones. “I’ll never retire to the country because I always have to be visiting new places and discovering new things”
His personal philosophy is “live and let live,” meaning that he does not approach life from a narrow-minded perspective.
“You are who you hang out with. I learned the key to succeeding in college is surrounding yourself with the right people,” said Jones. “I have always surrounded myself with a diverse group of individuals who are constantly pushing me, pushing each other to be better and achieve more than I would have alone.”
After interviewing Jones, I found a teacher who not only literally started as a pupil, but succeeds because he continues to be a student of the world every day.
Photo by David Reagan