Life for Joe Stanley could have turned out differently. A string of seemingly unrelated incidents converged in his life to turn a would-be CPA into an award-winning faculty member at Missouri University of Science and Technology.
Stanley was three years into his accounting degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia before he took an engineering class on the advice of his cousin’s advisor. “He talked me into it,” Stanley says.
“It” was a statics class, which was engaging enough to make the math enthusiast change his major to engineering. Graduating in 5 1/2 years summa cum laude, he received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and had a job in industry lined up. Tragically, his sister was murdered the night of his graduation, and he decided to turn down the job to remain in Columbia with his family.
He continued with his education at Mizzou, and, while working on his master’s degree in electrical engineering, he found out about a fairly new medical informatics degree program. It was one-third medical school and two-thirds engineering, and it was a perfect fit for Stanley.
He earned his Ph.D. in computer engineering and computer science in 1998, and his research specialty is developing software to analyze medical images that help make decisions in medical diagnoses. Stanley was going to accept a position at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, but his plans again were upended at the last minute, and instead he found himself in 1999 with an assistant professorship in electrical and computer engineering at Missouri S&T.
With no teaching experience and no idea about course preparation, he did what any other novice might do: “I read a textbook on a beach at Lake Michigan the summer before classes.”
Help is on the way
The first three or four semesters in the classroom were not especially inspiring, he says. But 10 years ago he asked his wife, Candy, a former K-12 science teacher, to observe his classes. “I’ll never forget when she videotaped me,” he says. “She was frantically taking notes.” Candy made suggestions, such as “make eye contact,” and “write on the board where students can see it.” They were simple but effective recommendations. In 2005, he won his first Missouri S&T Outstanding Teaching Award, which he also won in 2009 and 2011-15.
He also credits his students’ input for improving his teaching. The majority of students in his two classes — Computer Engineering 2210 (Introduction to Digital Logic) and Computer Engineering 3150 (Introduction to Microcontrollers and Embedded System Design) — are sophomores and juniors from outside of his department.
“The last thing they want to do is get close to computer hardware,” he says about his required courses. “I have to relate what I know to people who are not familiar with my area.”
Stanley finds out in detail what students struggle with by facilitating the computer engineering Learning Enhancement Across Disciplines sessions each week during the semester. He’s led the LEAD sessions for about 10 years now.
“Students that come to LEAD are not necessarily ‘A’ students,” Stanley says. “I learn how to relate the material for students who are not doing as well. It helps me look at problems with my own teaching.”
Stanley finds out if his teaching philosophy is working when he asks students in the back of the 55-plus-member class — where the disengaged students typically sit — “Are we OK?” and is able to elicit a response. He often invites students to let him know what they don’t understand. “You’re paying for the class,” he tells them. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Teaching adult learners
Stanley has served as an affiliate professor for the Project Lead the Way program, a national program designed to increase interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics among students from kindergarten through high school. Missouri S&T is the state affiliate for training the teachers, with S&T faculty providing intensive summer training modules. Stanley says he has had to hone his teaching style to provide the same material he gives his undergraduate students to adult learners — in a much shorter time span.
As his teaching expertise has continued to develop, Stanley has remained involved in research, collaborating with the National Library of Medicine for the past 13 years. He has been awarded a patent with several other S&T faculty on the automatic detection of critical dermoscopy features for malignant melanoma diagnosis.
Stanley received the IEEE-USA Professional Achievement Award in 2015 for his work with Project Lead The Way’s K-12 STEM program. He was one of three to receive it.
“I’m very honored to receive this award,” he says. “Working with the Project Lead The Way program has grown my love for teaching, has shown me the professionalism and dedication of outstanding instructors and has helped me immensely in communicating with students using different teaching styles. Much of my development as an instructor I attribute to my involvement in the PLTW program.”
In addition, Stanley has earned the IEEE Outstanding Educator St. Louis Region award in 2015 and the IEEE Outstanding Educator Region 5 award in 2016.
In his off time, you will find him at The Centre exercising to fend off arthritis in his knee, which was operated on 20 years ago. He also enjoys getting to play golf when he can. His daughters’ involvement in community theater earns him ushering duties at various productions of Fine Linen Drama and Ozark Actors Theater, where Kaylee and Paige are active. An ongoing passion of his is serving in a backpack feeding program for elementary age children, where he has seen tangible benefits from helping others.
Adapted from an earlier article by Diane Hagni and published in the newsletter of the Center for Educational Research and Teaching Innovation.