Joan and James Woodard invest in faculty excellence

There wasn’t much exposure to engineering when Joan Woodard, AMth’73, was in high school. But the world of engineering opened up at Missouri S&T. “Once I got to Rolla, I had many friends studying engineering,” she says. “I knew that’s what I ultimately wanted to do.” Now Woodard and her husband, James Woodard Jr., have established a $1 million faculty endowment in S&T’s electrical and computer engineering department. The Woodard Associate Professorship for Excellence will support amid-career faculty member on the path to full professor by providing research funding and other resources. 

Launching a career at Sandia National Labs

When Woodard graduated Rolla in 1973 with a degree in applied math, she joined Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California, later transferring to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Nearly 40 years later, she retired as executive vice president and deputy director.

“I started at Sandia as a member of the technical staff, under the condition that I earn a master’s degree,” says Woodard. “I was allowed a 12-month leave to work on it.”

Woodard went on to earn a master of science degree in engineering economic systems from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of California-Berkeley. She also continued to take on new challenges at Sandia, advancing from research scientist to senior positions in nearly every major program.

“The work was exciting and cutting edge,” says Woodard, whose first project was in energy research, developing a solar thermal electric power generation system. During the assignment, she met a Ph.D. graduate of MIT, James Woodard, her future husband.

“We were working on a $110 million federal investment in the 1970s, so there was a lot of pressure,” says Woodard.  “Using our research, the government built a plant to test advanced concepts in power generation.”

Inspiring new generations of teachers and scholars

Woodard is a member and past president of the S&T Board of Trustees and a member of the Academy of Computer Science. She and her husband are members of the Order of the Golden Shillelagh. She was recognized among the university’s Alumni of Influence in 2011.

The Woodards have two sons, Thomas and Mark, both of whom are Miners. Tom graduated from S&T in 2006 with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering, and Mark earned his Ph.D. in computer engineering in 2017.

In addition to consulting for two national labs, Woodard mentors newly tenured faculty members selected to participate in a Department of Defense mentoring program funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

“Most of the mentors in the program are retired generals, but a handful of us are from other parts of the national security community,” says Woodard, who credits her experiences in the DOD program with influencing the focus of the Woodard Professorship.

“The professorship will support excellent faculty members who teach because they love students, do research because it keeps them at the frontier of their fields, and serve because they are leaders,” says Woodard. “And hopefully the endowment will encourage all faculty on that path.”