Faculty Spotlight: Joany Tisdale

When did you know you wanted to study science?

Funny story…I finished high school wanting to study international business. I hardly even remembered physics at all, it didn’t make an impression on me one way or another. I liked calculus and did pretty well at it, but I don’t remember ever really being into STEM or anything related. Then in my first quarter at Auburn University, it became really clear that international business wasn’t right for me. When I went home that winter break, I talked to my old high school calc teacher and he suggested aerospace engineering. And so the next quarter I switched into aerospace engineering. Four years later, I graduated from Auburn at the top of my class in aerospace engineering and went on to graduate work at MIT.

Joany and her Auburn classmates with their project that earned a spot on NASA’s KC-135, the zero-gravity plane.

How did your journey continue to change over the next few years?

At MIT, I switched to mechanical engineering because I wanted to study more renewable energy. A couple of years later, I started working at NREL, the National Renewable Energy Lab, in the biofuels area. Eventually, I felt a strong desire towards teaching and ended up teaching engineering, physics, and math at both University of Denver and Colorado Christian University before ending up at Valor.

Did you ever feel unsupported as a woman in your career path?

I never remember feeling discouraged, even though there were a handful of times when I felt challenged, especially achieving success in the classroom over male classmates. But some people were really encouraging! My first boss at NREL worked hard to mentor and encourage women there, whether just interns trying to find their place or full-time employees trying to balance an engineering career and motherhood.

What is something you try to communicate to your students if they’re passionate about pursuing a career or studies in STEM?

No matter what, I try to encourage students to do what they’re passionate about and what they love. In my AP Physics class, we spend the whole first two weeks working on perseverance. I find that especially important because, especially in these STEM careers or studies, so many people don’t know what do when it gets hard so they end up quitting or changing. When it’s that hard, it’s extra important to be able to push forward even when it seems insurmountable.