As someone who once faced academic probation in a college environment, the 2017 Ivy Tech Community College Alumni of the Year for the Columbus region never imagined becoming a symbol for higher education.

As a youth, a traditional passive education experience involving lectures and textbooks was not Brian Heaton’s ideal learning environment.

After entering Northside Middle School, the Columbus resident got more involved in hands-on activities ranging from athletics to performing arts and yearbook publishing.

That level of involvement continued at Columbus North, where he excelled in performing arts. Heaton also became active in community organizations such as Junior Achievement, 4-H and the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund.

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After becoming a member of the Radio Emergency Associated Communication Teams, which monitored citizens band radio signals to help others, Heaton said the experience during his high school years helped awaken a desire to serve others that he still maintains today.

Although he was accepted into Indiana University after graduating from North in 1977, Heaton felt early misgivings about attending classes in Bloomington, he said.

“I just wasn’t mentally prepared to go to a four-year institution,” said Heaton, who let his grades slip to the point of academic probation.

After completing his freshman year, Heaton left the university, became a member of the corrections staff at the Bartholomew County Jail and was later deputized as a full-time merit officer.

After he accepted a second first-responder job as a firefighter, Heaton decided to enroll at Ivy Tech to earn his associate’s degree in electronics.

It was a decision Heaton said he has never regretted — and it put him on a career path of distinction.

“The instructors at Ivy Tech were first-rate, knew what they were doing and were able to impart their knowledge,” Heaton said. “While you learn there’s more than one way to arrive at a solution, you’re also taught to do all the right steps in the right order.”

What Heaton said he most enjoyed about the Ivy Tech experience was seeing immediate results from hands-on experiences, as well as knowing he would have a skill to get the attention of prospective employers when he completed college.

After graduating with a 3.9 grade-point average, Heaton was hired to repair medical laboratory equipment.

“The machines I worked on had to be exact, because they were used by the physicians to perform diagnosis,” Heaton said. “I realized if the machine gave out the wrong information, it could be the difference between life and death. So I wanted to make sure it was done right the first time.”

Now properly motivated for lectures and textbooks, Heaton earned a four-year degree in Total Quality Management from Cleary College in Michigan. Later, he would receive his master’s degree in Business Administration with a Healthcare Administrator endorsement from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Today, the former deputy and fireman is a senior director of field service for Omnicell, a California-based technology company that manufactures and sells medical automation products.

With a track record of success, in college and in his profession, Heaton was nominated for the Ivy Tech alumni award.

In her written nomination, Therese Copeland praised Heaton for his consistent never-give-up attitude.

“He always puts patient safety as his utmost concern, and credits Ivy Tech for being the catalyst to inspire him to become all that he could be,” wrote Copeland, executive director of resource development at Ivy Tech in Columbus.

Although Heaton’s job keeps him traveling extensively, that has not tempered Heaton’s desire to serve his community, Copeland wrote.

Beside being a reserve deputy sheriff since 2001, Heaton also served as a board member of the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair for six years, and has supported a number of community non-profits with both his time and money, she said.

“I was very surprised to be counted among 14 outstanding Ivy Tech alumni across the state,” said Heaton, 58. “It’s almost an overwhelming and humbling experience.”

While flattered by the accolades, Heaton said he had never considered himself exceptional.

“I do what I do, and don’t really think about it,” he said.

After taking a moment to commend the work done by police officers, firefighters and paramedics, Heaton said his current position satisfies his desire to serve others like no other job he’s had.

“And it was Ivy Tech that put me on that path to where I am today,” Heaton said.

Brian Heaton

Age: 58

Residence: Columbus

Occupation: Senior director of Field Services East Division for Omnicell. Reserve deputy with the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

Education: Columbus North High School, Class of 1977; Associate’s degree in electronics from Indiana Vocational Technical College, 1986; Bachelor of Arts from Cleary College, 1993 in Total Quality Management; Master of Business Administration from Indiana Wesleyan University in 2009.

Wife: Wendy, three adult children and eight grandchildren.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.