Joe Stahl has always liked problem-solving and tinkering.
“It sounds sort of clichéd, but I’ve always had an affinity toward computers, though my mother will say that I play too many games on them,” he said. “But games are really the thing that made me realize what I wanted to do. The various ways in which humans and machines interact are so interesting, and games are just a small part of that. Technology is advancing at an amazing rate, and I realized that I wanted to be involved in helping that move forward.”
Stahl selected College of DuPage for several reasons. He was named a Presidential Scholar, which provides two years of tuition for high-achieving students. While this is relieving the financial burden of college, he also was greatly influenced by the hands-on learning experiences.
“No other college I saw provided that sort of experience during the freshman semesters,” he said. “Whenever I was in the Health and Science Center, I liked to pass by the simulation hospital to watch students already applying concepts they learned in the classroom. And that isn’t limited to just the Nursing program. It’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll feel that dedication no matter what your intended field of study. Application is so important to education, and I feel that really sets COD apart from other institutions.
“COD takes away many of the limitations that most other colleges would have, so the only thing deciding my future is me. I tend to be fairly self-driven, so that really made College of DuPage stand out to me personally.”
Stahl studied engineering and transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in computer engineering with a focus on quantum computing. He was involved in undergraduate research and was the lead for an experiment that will operate as a payload launched with one of the NASA USIP satellites, CAPSat. The payload design is a collaboration between students at UIUC and at University of Waterloo.
“If successful, the experiment will serve as a proof-of-concept that devices which are sensitive enough to be used in quantum-level communication can be repaired while still in orbit,” he said. “Day to day, you work on the project and then you think, ‘Wow, this is going into space.’”
He also was involved with the student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the student organization Illini Solar Car.
Having earned his bachelor’s degree, Stahl is currently working at a top federal contracting firm as a software engineer focusing on cybersecurity. He plans to start a master’s program in fall 2021 while continuing to work, and his long-range plans include a Ph.D. and return to academia.
“Eventually, I would like to teach computer systems to laymen,” he said. “In a world where technology is becoming a greater part of our everyday lives, being fluent in ‘computer’ is becoming increasingly paramount. I guess in the end, I just want to help improve people’s everyday experiences with technology – whether that means creating better tech or teaching existing tech to others.”
Stahl always knew that he had a greater chance to succeed at College of DuPage, regardless of scholarships.
“COD is a great starting point. It’s an accessible way to get on the right path toward achieving one’s goals,” he said. “I felt that the faculty really wanted to help me learn. In fact, I had professors from previous semesters greet me by name in the hallways. I don’t think I really would have seen that anywhere else. I get the feeling that everyone at COD genuinely cares about the students they are teaching, and that alone is invaluable. Add that on top of the already great program – I was sold.
“There are so many options out there, and while it’s easy enough to find an institution that caters to specific fields or interests, it’s tough to expand those horizons to serve a varied community. College of DuPage has the flexibility to provide a varied class schedule so that it can offer that opportunity for improvement to the widest audience possible. The purpose of a college isn’t just to provide education to those who have resources, but to provide resources to those who want an education. College of DuPage stands at the forefront, and no matter who you are or what your dreams, COD has something to offer.”