Faculty Spotlight: Associate Professor Joyce Thomas

Joyce Thomas is a designer, a researcher, an inventor and an educator. As a member of Auburn's faculty, she can now add the title of Associate Professor with tenure, having been promoted this fall.

Joyce Thomas

Thomas teaches industrial design in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD).

Thomas holds a B.F.A. in Industrial Design from the Rochester Institute Technology in New York and an M.F.A. in Industrial Design from the University of Illinois, and she also earned an Executive Masters of Product Design & Development from Northwestern University. She taught at the University of Illinois for over 14 years before joining the SIGD faculty in 2018. While she knew she would be happy to leave the cold, snowy Midwestern winters, she didn’t realize just how much she would enjoy life in Auburn. “My mentor at Illinois, Professor William Bullock, was an alum and long-time chair of the Industrial Design program here at Auburn. He instilled Auburn DNA in me, and Auburn felt like home the moment I stepped on campus.”

Before joining the Auburn faculty, Thomas designed innovative floor care products for Electrolux for almost 25 years. She currently has her own design firm, Joyce Thomas Designs, where she continues her work in floor care and has also designed new products in lawn and garden, housewares, pet products and industrial products. She holds 59 utility and design patents, and the consumer products she has designed over the course of her career have produced more than $4.8 billion in retail sales in the U.S. market. In addition to teaching and designing, Thomas also consults for and supports several entrepreneurial businesses developed and owned by her husband, Ed Schumer, including the Midwest Professional Basketball Association, the Unified Basketball Alliance and the Small Biz Alliance of Central Alabama. Together they began ThomasSchumerGroup as a collective of small businesses that provided education, networking and professional services to entrepreneurial small businesses.

When she left the corporate world, Thomas missed learning about new materials, processes and design methods, but she found that teaching actually enables her to continue her love of learning. “As an educator and researcher, I have many opportunities to share my knowledge and experience with a new generation of design thinkers while expanding my own learnings at the same time,” she stated. One of her favorite classes to teach is Design Thinking, a course for non-majors that draws students in from outside of SIGD to help them learn visual communication techniques, brainstorming and product development methods. “These skills and techniques will be beneficial to them regardless of their final degree,” Thomas stated. “My experience in industry working across interdisciplinary boundaries at the intersections of design, engineering and business allows me to bring real world examples to all my classrooms.” Thomas’ current research deals mostly with human-centered empathic design, entrepreneurship, and education. Her work is widely published, and she regularly presents at conferences and proceedings.

Thomas encourages her students to be a bit naive at the start of a new project so that they’re not afraid to push boundaries. As an inventor and life-long learner herself, she also urges them to learn new skills whenever they can. “I learned to sew, knit, crochet and embroider as a kid and to use shop tools in college, and I studied folk art painting as an adult, which ultimately became my first teaching position in a craft shop,” Thomas stated. “Making has always been a part of my life from the time I was very young.”

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Joyce Thomas