Teacher-Scholar Legacies: Stan Thomas

By William Turkett, Chair and Associate Professor of Computer Science

Across the range of anecdotes and stories that have been shared about Dr. Stan Thomas, a central theme that emerges is an appreciation for his deep and wide range of contributions to improving computer science education – both at the very local and the very global levels.

Dr. David John, one of Stan’s closest colleagues, highlighted Stan’s international recognition as a leader in the field of computer science accreditation. Stan has held multiple roles within the Computer Science Accreditation Board and the ABET Computing Accreditation Commission, including being chair of the CAC. Because of his long-term contributions across these roles, Stan has been recognized as a CAC and ABET Fellow – only a handful of such fellows are named each year. As this profile is being written, Stan continues to work in this area: he is on his way to Baltimore to train a new set of program evaluators to undertake accreditation visits.

At the local level, Stan laid the foundation for what the Department of Computer Science looks like today. As the second faculty member hired specifically to teach computer science and having now worked at Wake Forest for 40 years, Stan was instrumental in shaping the curriculum for the undergraduate and Master’s level graduate programs in computer science. Stan’s expertise is in the area of database systems and data management, and he has enriched the set of courses offered by the department in this area. Multiple faculty commented on how Stan’s contributions to the department also extend well beyond curricula. Dr. Jennifer Burg noted how Stan has always been a source of wisdom, backed up by his deep reading in technical areas, on the practical components of administering a computer science program – touching on issues such as where the department should invest in hardware, what tools and languages we should support, and what email systems should be set up. Stan undertook the role of department chair for seven years (2004-2011), and both chairs since have frequently turned to Stan for sage advice.

Each person that shared anecdotes about Stan also highlighted, usually early in their note, how welcoming Stan is as a person. Dr. Jennifer Burg described Stan as “just a regular guy – in the best sense of the term: consistent, unpretentious, and down-to-earth.” Dr. Sam Cho fondly remembers first meeting Stan during Sam’s interview for a Wake Forest faculty position, noting that Stan had been delayed in arriving at their meeting due to a rainstorm. While Sam was dressed in a suit for the interview, he recalls that Stan “reached out his big hands and shook mine warmly, splattering me all over.” Sam says that was the point when he knew he was going to enjoy working with Stan as a colleague. As chair, Stan nurtured community among the faculty, including hosting events at his High Rock Lake home and at a Yadkin Valley vineyard.

A side of Stan that may not immediately reveal itself is his interest in travel. Personal trips included travel through Europe, on boats and bikes! He will soon travel to Malaysia for accreditation work. Other notable academic trips included multiple summers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center working on issues related to automated launch control systems, a year at the United States Air Force Academy teaching and collaborating, a semester at Lahore University in Pakistan learning about educational practices in the Middle East, and a summer visiting with faculty at several universities in east Africa as part of a Wake Forest task force.

We wish Stan the best in his retirement and will miss his constant and kind presence in the department!