This Is How Joe Stanley Rolls

Things could have all turned out very differently for Joe Stanley. A string of seemingly unrelated incidences converged in his life at just the right time to turn a would-be CPA into an award-winning electrical and computer engineering associate professor at Missouri S&T.

Stanley was three years into his accounting degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia, located in his hometown, before he took an engineering class on the advice of his cousin’s advisor. “He talked me into it,” Stanley said.

“It” turned out to be a statics class, which was engaging enough for the math enthusiast to change his major to engineering. Graduating in five and a half 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 in order to remain in Columbia with family.

He continued with his education at UMC, and, while working on his M.S. in electrical engineering, he found out about a fairly new medical informatics degree program. It was one-third medical school and two-thirds engineering, which turned out to be a perfect fit for Stanley. He earned his Ph.D. in computer engineering and computer science in 1998. His research specialty is in developing software to analyze medical images which provide help in decision-making for medical diagnoses.

Originally, Stanley was going to accept a position at Creighton University, but his plans were again upended at the last minute, and he found himself with an assistant professorship at Missouri S&T in 1999 instead. With no teaching experience -- he had never taught a class as a graduate student -- and no idea what comprised course preparation, he did what any other novice would do: “I read a textbook on a beach at Lake Michigan the summer before classes,” he said.

Help is on the way

Understandably, the first three or four semesters in the classroom were not especially inspiring, he remembers. Then, 10 years ago, he asked his wife, Candy, formerly a K-12 science teacher, to observe his classes. “I’ll never forget when she video-taped me,” he said. “She was frantically taking notes.” Candy made some simple suggestions, such as “make eye contact,” and “write on the board where students can see it.” Simple, but effective recommendations, apparently. The next year he won his first teaching award. Altogether he has won seven teaching awards since 2004.

He also credits his students’ input for improving his teaching dramatically. The majority of students in his computer engineering 111 and 213 classes are sophomores and juniors and come 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.”

He finds out in detail what students struggle with when he facilitates the computer engineering LEAD sessions (Learning Enhancement Across Disciplines) each week during the semester, something he started doing about 10 years ago.

“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, which offers engineering classes to middle and high schools throughout the nation. S&T is the Missouri affiliate for training the instructors of these classes, 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, only in a much shorter time span.

As his teaching expertise has continued to develop, Stanley has also remained involved in research. He has collaborated with the National Library of Medicine for the past 13 years. He also has been awarded a patent with several other S&T faculty on the automatic detection of critical dermoscopy features for malignant melanoma diagnosis.

In his off time, you will find him at The Centre exercising extensively 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 includes serving in a backpack feeding program for elementary-aged children, where he has seen tangible benefits from helping others.