College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

IE background sets up alum for a career in international communications

Grant Barton poses for a selfie with the London skyline in the background
Grant Barton poses for a selfie with the London skyline in the background. All photos courtesy of Grant Barton, unless otherwise noted

When deciding on a college major, Grant Barton wanted to find something that allowed him to balance his mathematical abilities with his passion for the arts. He found just that when he decided to pursue industrial engineering (IE).

Barton grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and he enjoyed his math classes just as much as the courses he took in art and music. After performing in the Opus Honor Choir at Stephens Auditorium in 2011, Barton decided Iowa State University was the place for him.

“I fell in love with Iowa State’s campus,” said Barton. “It was autumn. It was gorgeous. My 14-year-old self was loving it.”

Grant Barton plays his clarinet wearing ISU marching band uniform
Grant Barton plays his clarinet outside of the stadium during the Fall 2017 season. Photo courtesy of Claire Smith

Barton knew he wanted to be part of the Cyclone Marching Band in college. He spent three years in the clarinet section before becoming the band’s photographer. It was through the band that he met, Rebecca Flicher, who influenced him to declare a major in IE. Flicher, who served as tour guide for prospective engineering students, described IE as “the people engineers” which appealed to Barton, who was a recipient of a Bright Foundation scholarship.

“Finally, I had found a major that combined my mathematical brain with my interpersonal skills,” he said.

I E 222: Design & Analysis Methods for System Improvements with teaching professor Leslie Potter was one of the most impactful IE courses he took as a student. He said he appreciated Potter’s ability to relate engineering concepts to everyday life across different scales. In addition, the course got him to think critically about the different ways he could apply IE concepts and methods in the areas that interested him, such as the performing arts. He applied aspects of process improvement and efficiency when he established a Kanban paper filing system through his work with ISU’s Graduate College. As a student he also gave tours for The Engineering Ambassador and Mentor Program (TEAM) and worked with Mike Helwig, associate teaching professor in IE, to develop lecture presentations that would be accessible to all students regardless of ability.

Outside of his engineering work, Barton was also active in campus musical activities. He played in the marching and symphonic ensembles and was a member of the band service fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi, rising to the rank of president his senior year.

Grant Barton poses with his parents, Tracy and Carl, on the day of his graduation in 2019
Grant Barton poses with his parents, Tracy and Carl, on the day of his graduation in 2019.

Barton completed his B.S. in IE in 2019 and returned to Cedar Rapids where he coached musical theatre at his high school alma mater, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, while applying for jobs. He founded his own photography company, Grant Barton Photography, in 2018 which he continues to operate today. He was eventually hired as an elections office coordinator for Linn County, which allowed him to apply some of the knowledge he learned in the IE curriculum, such as utilizing value stream maps.

“I was mapping out the flow of product, in our case, the product was an election worker, and how the worker moved through the recruitment and training process, which was one of my key job functions,” he said.

After about a year of working in county government, Barton experienced what he called a “mid-pandemic-quarter-life-crisis moment” and decided to pursue a graduate degree so he could find a career that more closely aligned with his passions. He was admitted into four graduate programs in the London area and ultimately decided to enroll in the international communication and development masters program at City, University of London. 

Grant Barton on assignment as the band’s photographer at the 2018 Alamo Bowl.

“International communications and development has just as much to do with content creation as it does the distribution and purpose behind the content. Again, those organizational and project management skills that I developed through the IE curriculum at Iowa State are huge here,” he said.

Barton plans to complete his degree in September 2022 and he said he hopes to find a job in London after graduation. Though he now lives on the other side of the pond, Barton fondly remembers his time in Ames. He said it’s the simple things that he misses most, such as living close to his friends and just walking around the campus, especially in the fall since that was when he first fell in love with the place that he now proudly calls his alma mater.

Music also continues to be a major part of Barton’s life, and he currently sings in a community choir in London. He encourages others to remain active in the things they are passionate about, particularly that engineering student who is not sure if they will have time for music in college.

“Don’t stop doing music. It’s a wonderful creative outlet for long days spent in lectures and doing STEM work. It is also a guaranteed way to hone your organizational skills as you have a lot to balance and provides a great support system of other engineering majors,” he said.

A shot Grant Barton took during the 2018 game against Akron. The game occurred after the tragic murder of Cyclone golfer Celia Barquín Arozamena, whose memory was honored during a pregame ceremony. Barton considers this to be one of his favorite band photos and described the fans in the stands as a “very powerful sea of yellow.”