Alumni couple shape the future of engineering and business

By Lauren Winton

Published: Feb 8, 2021 10:35:00 AM

Jean and Tom Walter Jean and Tom Walter

A Naval ROTC scholarship led John Thomas (Tom) Walter, to the then Alabama Polytechnic Institute. Tom graduated in 1955 with a degree in engineering physics.

“Auburn was the Navy’s choice,” said Tom but his experiences on campus, including meeting his wife Jean have kept him connected. Their passion for Auburn University has led them to give back to the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and the university in a multitude ways. “We have always loved and wanted to support Auburn,” Jean said.

Tom and Jean met when she was a freshman at Alabama Polytechnic Institute and he was a junior. A year after Tom graduated, they were married. Tom was commissioned an Ensign in the US Navy. He served aboard an Atlantic Fleet destroyer.  After a tour aboard the destroyer, he spent four years with the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project.

“I was with the Navy until the fall of 1959. Then, I interviewed with several different companies before I chose Texas Instruments as a circuits design engineer,” Tom said.  He stayed with Texas Instruments for close to two years before he and Jean decided to make a move.  With their family being in Alabama, they wanted to relocate closer to home.  Tom took a job with IBM and they moved to Atlanta.

“Then a start-up opportunity came along. It was attractive, and we decided to move back to Texas.” The company – Electronic Data Systems (EDS) – resulted in a highly successful career for Tom. He served as senior vice president and the company’s chief financial officer.

“Texas had become our home and where we raised our three sons,” said Jean. As Tom and Jean’s life in Texas grew, their connection to Auburn did as well. They decided that they wanted to give back to the university they both loved, and focused their giving on engineering.

“We started giving back to engineering because it was Tom’s main area of interest at Auburn. We are fortunate to be able to support Auburn, and I know Tom greatly enjoyed his time on the Auburn University Foundation Board. When he served on the board, we were able to see the financial side of things and what kind of impact philanthropy has,” said Jean.

When the idea for creating the Thomas Walter Center was first discussed, Tom and Jean knew they wanted to support the initiative.

“We had the opportunity to match significant resources, which started the Thomas Walter Center.  The idea was to give a better introduction to business for engineering students, and integrate aspects of the business curriculum into the engineering education,” Tom said.

Tom’s holistic business, entrepreneurial and engineering prowess were integral in helping to shape the creation and direction of the Thomas Walter Center. Through his and Jean’s support, the Center has allowed generations of entrepreneurial and business-minded engineering graduates find footing in their respective career fields.

Since it was established in 1989, the Thomas Walter Center has expanded to offer more extensive programming and serve more students each year. The Center now also provides a Masters in Engineering Technology for graduate students.

In addition to the Thomas Walter Center, the Walters have given a scholarship in the College of Agriculture in honor of Jean’s father.

“We have been fortunate to see many students receive the James H. Hall Endowed Scholarship,” said Jean.  “We think, though, that we are most proud of the Thomas Walter Center. Dr. Evans has done a great job with the Center. Without him, it would not be as far along as it is now.”

“The Center has a great number of professors who care deeply about their students. It highlights the attitudes and relationship between professors and students. It is really an eye-opener for how much Auburn Engineering cares about student success,” said Tom. “The level of engagement is remarkable. It is characteristic of Auburn, but especially the students in the program.”

Both Tom and Jean agree that their generosity and service to Auburn has been extremely rewarding. They are proud of the difference that their philanthropy has made in shaping the education and careers of future Auburn engineers.
Media Contact: Lauren Winton, lmw0090@auburn.edu, 334.844.5519

Recent Headlines