A year of impact: Walton gained lifetime skills at Tri-State

June 18, 2024

Tri-State University
Ray Walton arrived on the Tri-State University campus in the fall of 1975, the year the institution changed its name from Tri-State College. Here, Carl Elliott, left, then president of the university, and Jimmie Caldwell, then president of the Alumni Association, climb down ladders after installing new signage celebrating Tri-State's university status. Though Ray was only at Tri-State for one year, it had a huge impact on his life and career.
Though Ray Walton was only able to stay one year at Tri-State University, that time had a huge impact on his career.

Ray was surprised when a recruiter asked to stop by his family’s Indianapolis home, since he had never heard of the school.

“I still don’t know how Tri-State found out about me,” he said, “but I remember him telling me about the computer department and being impressed with what I heard. It sounded like a great opportunity.”

Welcoming campus

His father was a patrolman with the Indianapolis Police Department and his mother was a homemaker, so the family did not have a lot of resources to pay for college.

“Between what my parents could comfortably borrow and the maximum student loan I could get, it wasn’t quite enough to cover the cost of attending Tri-State,” Ray said. “But I was given a grant that made up the difference.”

He felt welcome from the time he arrived for orientation in the fall of 1975.

“The faculty and staff I met with were all honest, open and friendly. They all really made me feel like I was welcome on campus, and I felt they really wanted me to succeed in my studies,” he recalled.

He and his roommate would often purchase two pizzas from Tom’s Campus Corner on Friday nights: one for dinner, and a smaller one for Saturday’s breakfast. He enjoyed “free pinball” nights hosted by one of the fraternities, playing free pinball until he lost (after about a half-dozen games on a good night) and then enjoying beer and pizza for the rest of the evening.

Ray started out as a computer science major, but soon changed his major to computer technology, which was a two-year associate degree as opposed to a four-year bachelor’s. As he progressed through his classes, his instructors helped him discover he had a knack for diagnosing and fixing issues with code, even those that other programmers couldn’t see.

“Where possible, every single instructor—even in classes that weren’t core computer classes—taught us to think critically,” he said. “Rather than trying to teach me what to think, every instructor I had at Tri-State University taught me how to think.”

“They also encouraged us to share what we did with others and explain our solutions; it was a way for us to learn even more. Seeing how someone else solved the same problem differently and knowing why he/she took that approach gave each of us yet another tool in our respective toolboxes.”

“There may have been other schools that could have prepared me for my career as well as Tri-State did, but I honestly doubt there were any that could have done it better.”

Decades in IT

Family finances only allowed Ray one year at Tri-State. He returned to Indianapolis and worked part-time while finishing his associate degree at Indiana Vocational Technical College, graduating in May 1978.

“What I learned in my one year at Tri-State was so good that I was able to test out of 16 hours’ worth of classes,” he said.

He worked as a civilian programmer for the Indianapolis Police Department for a year after graduation, then spent 41 of the next 43 years at just three employers, mostly in production support, with some contract programming positions filling in the gaps.

“My responsibilities at all three companies were pretty much the same: Take a year to learn the system and then start providing production support,” he said. “My ability to fix complex code problems was something I was able to utilize throughout my entire career.”

He retired at the end of 2021. After many years of being on-call for evenings and weekends, he is enjoying having more control over his time and being able to share it with his wife, Beth.

The couple maintains multiple flower gardens and hopes to have an area to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

“She and I have spent a lot of time over the past 2½ years hiking trails at as many Indiana State Parks as we can,” he said. “Our goal is to hike at least one trail at every state park and recreation area in the state of Indiana over the next few years.”

He remains grateful for the impact his Tri-State education had on his life and career and plans to support the scholarship fund so that other students can have the same experience.

“At the risk of sounding cliché, that mindset from Tri-State was the gift that kept on giving. It gave me something I could use every single day of my almost-45-year career,” he said.

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