Life-Changing Choice

Written by: 
Amy Armstrong

Stephen 'Steve' F. Waddell ('75, '96 Ed.D.), center, with from left, his brother Rick Waddell and niece Lindsay Cowen; his wife, Cheryl Waddell; his daughter, Sarah Mickelson ('05), with her husband, Glen Weiman, and son, Soren Mickelson; and Steve's mother, Mary Lu Waddell. (Photo by Kasey Kamenicky (’04)/FW Creations)


When Freddy J. Waddell ('72 Ed.D.) walked onto campus to earn his doctorate in higher education, he brought something unique with him -- his son, Stephen "Steve" F. Waddell ('75, '96 Ed.D.).

The family had moved from Hobbs, Texas, to California when Steve was a year old and later to Idaho. When his father -- a principal, a superintendent and a dean at a small private college during his career -- decided to continue his education, UNT was a natural fit.

"It was like coming home," Steve says.

He says his undergraduate experience as a history major was everything he had hoped for and more.

"It was challenging because the expectations were high, and at the same time it was really intoxicating," he says. "I immersed myself in the experience and got to know a lot of people."

Steve says he has witnessed much progress over the years at his alma mater.

"I have seen two student unions go up, the complete turnaround of athletics and the construction of the coliseum," he says. "The one thing that has never changed is the amazing culture of the campus."

Steve followed his father into the field of education and returned to UNT to earn his Ed.D. in educational administration while serving as a principal and raising a family. His career took him all over Texas, most recently as superintendent of Lewisville ISD, where he retired in 2015. He now serves on UNT's College of Education Development Board, helping to move education-centered thinking and teaching forward.

So when it came time for Steve's daughter, Sarah Mickelson ('05), to go to college, the choice was clear -- the University of Texas at Austin.

"Ever since she was little that girl was determined to go to UT," Steve remembers with a laugh. "In fact, until her senior year, that is where she was going."

Sarah says it was a campus visit to UNT that changed her mind.

"I visited several colleges with my dad and he convinced me to at least look at UNT," she says. "It was our last stop and I fell in love. I loved the smaller college-town feel, the artistic vibe of the school and Denton, and the people."

She took a different path to her career in education. After graduating with a fashion merchandising degree, she earned a coveted internship with Nordstrom's in Seattle, but while she fell in love with the city, her job left her feeling unfulfilled.

"I feel I have a bit of education in my blood since so many family members are in or were in that field," she says. "There might have been a little resistance on my part, a desire to do something totally different, but I just had a longing to work with kids and run a classroom."

She went back to school to become a teacher and now works her passion for art and creativity into her classroom.

Steve says the long-ago choice of his father, who passed away in 2014, was life changing for their family.

"None of us would be where we are today without that choice," he says. "Dad was the first to go to college and I was the second to get a graduate degree. It changed our lives, our families' lives and hopefully the lives of kids we served in education."

The Waddells, who have endowed a scholarship for future school superintendents, were honored for 45 years of UNT pride with a Generations of Excellence Award at the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards Dinner this fall.