Faculty Spotlight: Jerrie Fiala retires after 24 dedicated years

Jerrie Fiala

Each school year is sure to yield stress, mixed feelings, success, and changes.  One of the many changes that occurred this school year in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences is the retirement of Jerrie Fiala. Fiala served as a master faculty specialist in the Departments of Industrial and Entrepreneurial Engineering and Engineering Design, Manufacturing and Management Systems. She taught IEE 1020: Technical Communication for 24 years and EDMMS 3020: Engineering Teams, Theory and Practice for 16 years. Students and faculty members alike miss her a great deal and hope her retirement will bring her more time to visit her grandchildren Grace, Bryce, Reece and Jayce. Those who know her best appreciate the long and uncommon process that brought her to the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

After earning the title of valedictorian at her high school in Vickery, Ohio, Fiala received a scholarship to attend The Ohio State University, where she was given the options of elementary education or home economics as fields to study. After learning that her “guidance counselor” was misleading her with false assumptions, she chose what she really wanted: English and Social Studies & Secondary Education. She received bachelor’s degrees in both subjects.

After graduating, she moved to Kalamazoo with her parents, Len and Geri Thornell. As she did not have teaching credentials in Michigan, she had to find a different vocation. She heard that a company called Brunswick was hiring computer programmers, and that if she applied and passed the logic test, the company would train her. Fiala was hired and became the first woman in Brunswick history to be on management payroll. From there, she worked at IBM writing software that helped companies -- like Stryker and Upjohn -- adapt IBM computers to their needs.  She met her husband Frank Fiala at IBM.

Fiala gave up her job at IBM to raise her children, Jason and Leigh. However, it wasn’t long before her career ambitions turned back to English and education. While her children were growing up, she earned a master’s degree in education at WMU, worked as a freelance writer for the Kalamazoo Gazette, and taught a variety of English and communication classes for Kalamazoo Valley Community College. There, she noticed some very good writers who credited the WMU engineering course in technical communication for their writing skills. She began teaching that very course in 1992. Though she was one of only a few female faculty members at the time, it wasn’t long before students and faculty alike saw that her background in computer programming, English and education made her a perfect technical communication teacher. 

Her lifelong experiences and dedication to teaching helped many students realize their dreams.