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Personal approach inspires lifelong love of Lyon

Dwayne Reliford, ‘94, never planned to attend Lyon College, but the school’s personal approach won him over, resulting in a lifelong love of his alma mater.

Reliford developed an aptitude for computers at an early age, putting him on track to be the first one in his family to attend college. His father was a factory worker, and his mother owned a cleaning business. 

“My parents stressed education to all of us. They didn’t care what we did. They just wanted us to go to school, be the best we could be, and be able to obtain more things than they had.”

While his father supported historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), he discouraged Reliford from attending one since he wanted to study computer science.

“When you think back 20 to 25 years ago, computers were just starting to break ground,” Reliford said, “and the people working on them were often from different countries.”

“My father said ‘If you’re going to be doing that, you can’t go to an HBCU, son.’ He wanted me to go to a school where I would learn to deal with and mingle with people of different races, cultures, and ethnicities because I was going to be sitting alongside people who didn’t look like me.”

He wanted Reliford to learn not only how to work with computers, but also how to work with people.

“That was one of the best decisions I have ever made.” 

Reliford began receiving application packets from colleges across the country his senior year of high school and planned on attending the University of Houston. One Thursday night while doing homework in his bedroom, he received a call from former Dean Jonathan Stroud of Lyon College, then Arkansas College.

“He talked to me about prospective student weekend and asked me why I hadn’t filled out an application. I said ‘I don’t know who y’all are. I’m going to be a Houston cougar.’ ”

After the call ended, Reliford found the application packet from Arkansas College. He saw Stroud’s face on the cover and was shocked to realize he had been speaking with the academic dean.

“Houston was so large that I would just be a number, and I was cool with that. It blew my mind that the dean of Arkansas College had personally called me. I figured I must be important.”

Reliford filled out the application that night and had his mom mail it the next morning when she went to work. Months later, he and his parents drove from Texas to Batesville for prospective students weekend.

“It was late February, so everything was covered in snow. It was beautiful,” he said.

“I remember getting in the car that Sunday to head home and saying ‘I think that’s where I want to go.’ I had a prospective student weekend for Houston the following weekend and told my dad I didn’t even want to go. I had fallen in love with Arkansas College.”

After majoring in mathematics with a minor in computer science, Reliford’s professional career spanned industries such as education, banking, finance, oil and gas, and telecommunications. He worked with AT&T as a Senior Database Marketing Manager for the last 14 years.

“The company moved me from Dallas to Houston, and we moved to Atlanta two years ago,” he said. “I had been with AT&T for such a long time that I was pretty much a subject matter expert.”

When, earlier this year, he learned that AT&T would be moving the entire department to California, Reliford began looking for opportunities in Atlanta and recently accepted the position of Senior Marketing Manager for TIAA, a retirement investment firm.

“The role is similar to my previous job, but it’s a totally different industry. For years, I’ve been in telecommunications, and now I’m in banking and finance. It’s a learning process.”

Fortunately, Reliford enjoys the challenge.

“With any change, there’s some apprehension and hesitation, but you’re getting to learn something new every day. I went from being a subject-matter expert to going to their experts with questions.”

“That’s the nature of the beast when you go somewhere new. You have to learn and go through the trenches. In time, I’ll be one of those subject matter experts here, too.”

He credits his adaptability to the well-rounded education he received at Lyon.

“Arkansas College definitely prepared me for my career. There were many times I thought about giving up because my professors were hard as hell.”

Dr. Doug Ponk, Reliford’s biggest mentor, taught him everything he knows about programming and math.

“In class, he would have you do exercises that made me think ‘I could do this so much easier.’ He was teaching you to think outside the box. I learned skills from him that I still use in my career today.”

Reliford concluded that, at Lyon, a liberal arts education meant “professors not only gave you what you needed for whatever field you were studying but also taught you so much about culture, differences, acceptance, and how to work with people. It was a well-rounded full-scale education from every aspect.”