Before They Were Educators: Andrew Dalton

(Editor’s Note: The following is the sixth part of a series of articles looking at the lives of WCU faculty and staff before they were educators.)

The Dave Matthews Band has continuously toured for the past 20 years. They have had numerous chart topping hits over the years, and are still popular among young adults today. Which one of Western Carolina University’s professors grew up loving DMB and rocking out to hits such as “Two Step” and “Crash into Me”? Western’s Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Andrew Dalton.  Dalton named the timeless DMB as being his favorite group growing up.

Dalton drove to Hickory High School in Hickory, North Carolina, home of the Red Tornadoes, in his first car, a 1988 red Pontiac Grand Am Turbo. While in high school, Dalton participated in the Latin Club and represented the Red Tornadoes in the Energy Bowl. The Energy Bowl was a Jeopardy-like competition among area high schools, with questions focused on energy topics such as exhaust cleaning systems for coal burning power plants, and photo-voltaic cells. Dalton graduated from Hickory High School in 1996.

Dalton’s interest in computers and technology can be traced back to his favorite movie growing up; “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. The futuristic and seemingly impossible aspects of Star Trek captivated Dalton’s interest and provided him with a role model, Captain Picard.

“He was smart, well-rounded, cool under pressure, and always very professional. Little did I know back then that my hairline would model his as I grew older” Dalton said.

When most kids were spending their summers relaxing in the sun, as an undergraduate, Dalton wanted to utilize his summers with a co-op working with Nortel Networks in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

“It was a memorable experience in that I had great opportunities to learn a lot about professional software development.” Dalton said. 

Dalton hadn’t always planned to become a teacher; while exploring his undergraduate studies, he first wanted to work in industry. When he graduated from Appalachian State University in 2000, he first returned to work for Nortel Networks, where he remained for 2 years. As the state of the economy began to decline, Dalton decided to return to Appalachian for his Master’s degree in 2002. It wasn’t until this time that he found his love for teaching.

“Then I had the opportunity to teach a course as a Teaching Assistant. That’s when I really found that I enjoyed teaching.” Dalton said.

After graduating with his Master’s in 2004, Dalton went on to receive his Ph.D from Clemson University in 2008.  

Dalton’s interest in computers began as early as third grade.

“My parents bought my first computer for me when I was in third grade.  It was a Tandy 1000 SX.  It had two 5 ¼ floppy disk drives and no hard drive.  It had an 8088 processor with a few KB of ram. This computer was in the pre-Windows days—the only thing that was available for it was MS DOS.  I spent years with the computer, and upgraded over time.  That interest drove my desire to be a computer scientist,” Dalton said.

Captain Picard did not only inspire Dalton’s career choice; the “Star Trek”, high tech, computer interests are just as relevant in his hobbies. Dalton enjoys reading tech books and magazines like the Linux Journal because he is, “trying to keep up with the pace of technology. I do not use Windows (the computer operating system); I find it too restrictive (which sometimes makes life here more … interesting).  When I have spare time, I spend some of it playing around with Linux.”