University of Notre Dame Professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Michael M. Stanisic (right), a beloved teacher known for his wit and generous spirit, passed away unexpectedly on April 11. He was 65 years old.
Stanisic joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1988 after earning bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in engineering from Purdue University. An expert in robotics, he authored and co-authored textbooks and numerous papers in leading journals on kinematics, a branch of mechanics that deals with mathematical descriptions of motion. He also invented and patented new types of robotic joints.
He is best known for his legendary teaching. He received numerous awards for teaching and advising, including Notre Dame’s Joyce Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 2001, 2007 and 2022.
Among his former students are numerous members of the engineering faculty.
“As a junior, I took Prof. Stanisic’s kinematics course,” said Mike Seelinger, professor of mechanical engineering. “He had a great sense of humor and exuded enthusiasm. His course lit the fire of my passion for engineering.”
Craig Goehler, professor of mechanical engineering and Stanisic’s former graduate student, described his advisor’s approach to mentoring as empowering. “He encouraged us to figure out on our own the research questions that most needed answers,” Goehler said.
Stanisic encouraged students to use the mechanical principles and mathematical tools they learned in the classroom to build functioning machines—something they did with enthusiasm in the clubs he led.
Hundreds of student-built robots and off-road vehicles came to life during the 30 years that “Doc,” as the students affectionately called him, served as advisor for Notre Dame Baja SAE, the intercollegiate engineering design competition, and the twelve years that he led the Robotic Football Club.
“Doc believed that good engineers need practical experience,” said mechanical engineering major and Baja Club president Kevin Alvarez.
“If it weren’t for Doc, I wouldn’t have learned how to weld, use a mill or a lathe, or how to properly do CAM, or run FEA analysis on parts. Doc was not just our faculty advisor, he was the number-one member of our team.”
Stanisic was as caring with his colleagues as he was with his students. “He was an amazing chef who enjoyed sharing his talents in the kitchen and love of food with his colleagues,” said Jim Schmiedeler, professor of mechanical engineering, who recalled Stanisic as his first mentor at Notre Dame.
“He also loved his job. He would often tell new hires that this was the ‘greatest job in the world’ to teach engineering to such talented students on such a beautiful campus.”
Stanisic’s infectious laugh and his fixed gear bike, his preferred mode of transportation, will be greatly missed.
“Mike was put on this earth to be an educator,” said Goehler. “There is no way that an individual could interact with Mike and not be changed for the better by the experience.”
Stanisic is survived by three daughters, two sisters and a brother.
A funeral service was held Tuesday (April 18) at Sts. Peter and Paul Serbian Orthodox Church in South Bend.
— Karla Cruise, Notre Dame College of Engineering