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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame community reflects on passing of engineering professor Michael Stanisic

Last week, Michael Stanisic, one of the University’s most passionate engineering professors, died at 65. His coworkers, students and fellow Notre Dame community members recalled his career and personality both in and out of the classroom over the last week.

Stanisic began teaching at Notre Dame in 1988. His specialty was kinematic mechanisms, which is primarily focused on geometric design, dynamics systems, moving parts and compliance gears.

Many professors recall his warm presence and teaching abilities, including Dr. Michael Seelinger, the director of undergraduate studies for Notre Dame’s Engineering Program. Seelinger attended Notre Dame as an undergraduate from 1990 to 1994 and was one of Stanisic’s students during that time. 

“I had Mike as a professor my junior year, and he just had a lot of enthusiasm for what he was teaching,” Seelinger said. “He was certainly very self-deprecating — he was a very humble person, but he just enjoyed people, enjoyed class and enjoyed the subject. I found that very infectious. What came across when I was a student was that he truly cared about his students and he had a passion for his subject.” 

Seelinger said that even when he was working with other professors in the department to prepare for grad school, he would seek out Stanisic for advice.

“All throughout grad school, he was a mentor and friend, and that was always very special. When I joined the faculty in 2009, it was thrilling to be colleagues with him,” Seelinger said.

Aside from teaching, Stanisic was involved in the communities around him. He was a loving and dedicated father to three daughters — Lauren, Emily and Olivia. He was a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and he served several terms as president of Sts. Peter and Paul Serbian Orthodox Church in South Bend. He often invited family friends and graduate students over for cookouts, using ingredients from his vegetable garden. 

Stanisic also served in several mentorship roles. He was the Faculty Advisor for the Baja SAE club, which designs and constructs race cars. He helped run the capstone design class for seniors in the College of Engineering. 

“Mike was a very unique character,” said David Go, chair of aerospace and mechanical engineering. “He was a grizzly bear on the outside and a teddy bear on the inside. He always came across as a little gruff, until you asked him for help, and then it was just like a flip of the switch. If you were interested in learning, he was going to do whatever he could to help you achieve your goal.” 

Stanisic’s teaching capabilities, in many ways, were unmatched. He earned teaching awards in 1991, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2014 and 2021. Most recently, Stanisic was the recipient of the Joyce Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching and the Dockweiler Award for Excellence in Advising. 

“He was instrumental in teaching a wide variety of our courses, but most well known for teaching senior design, where he instructed all of our outgoing mechanical engineering seniors for over twenty years,” Go said. “Outside of that, he was just an outstanding individual with an eclectic set of tastes for really good food, music and classic cars. He was really an outstanding person.”

Seelinger recalled his dedication to teaching, remembering when Stanisic learned of Seelinger’s use of a tablet instead of a blackboard and asking Seelinger for help getting started. 

“He never got tired of teaching and he always wanted to do it better,” Seelinger said. “And I learned from him, he learned from me, and that was always fun to do.”

Sophomore William White said Stanisic was a remarkably entertaining and committed professor, especially during office hours.

“He was a demanding professor who was always ready to help in office hours where he would spend hours daily,” White said. “Whether he was laughing at Tiny Tim the Donkey or lecturing on normal and tangential coordinates, his gruff but kind presence will be sorely missed by his students.”

Stanisic’s contributions to the Notre Dame community have made a lasting impact, and his memory will be cherished by many.