Pioneer Spotlight: Caryn Stanley

Pioneer Spotlight
November 9, 2018
Caryn Stanley

Caryn Stanley, instructor and program coordinator of organizational change and leadership, has a résumé full of real-life experience she brings to the classroom. Working for years at a Fortune 500 company – eventually becoming the youngest general manager in its history – gave her a closer look at the fields of human resources and organizational change. She is an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management, and she earned her bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from Millikin University and her doctorate in business administration from Baker College.

How did you gain interest in human resources and organizational change?

My interest in the field came from being in the field. Within three months of graduating with my undergrad degree, the Fortune 500 Company I had worked for through college recruited me back into a management position. It did not have much to do with my undergrad degree, but it was more money, I knew the organization and it was a chance for growth. They offered me some tuition reimbursement if I earned a master's degree that was related to my management position.  I ended up being the youngest GM in their history, having my own store at 22. A really bad organizational change experience led me to leave the company. That is part of where my interest in the change side of organizations and people came in. I ended up being with that company for about 10 years before I quit, and during that time, I received many promotions and ended up in human resources, training and development; training for a multi-state region. That is how I got into human resources. But in the very end, though, things changed so dramatically that I could no longer see myself working there.

What are some hobbies and interests you have outside of work?

The big hobby that many people already know is competitive ballroom dancing. This takes a lot of my time with rehearsal, practice and lessons, but it makes me super happy. It is something I started about five years ago. I have always enjoyed shiny things, and now I have a hobby where I get to wear shiny things all the time! I also enjoy that it allows me to build relationships. This helps when I am teaching about relationship development in organizational behavior. I remind myself, ‘okay you are teaching these things, now you have to go model it.’ Another big hobby I have is reading. I like suspense and murder mysteries, and my goal now is to read for pleasure again. I had stopped for about three years because there was no time while working on my dissertation. I love spending time with my kids. We do a lot together, from just staying in and playing cards to going out and having adventures. 

What is something you wish more people knew about organizational change?

When people ask me what I teach – those who aren’t affiliated with the university – it is easier to jokingly tell them I study why your coworkers are crazy and what you are doing to make it worse. That is one of the things I would like people to understand. Whether it is about organizational change, organizational behavior or human resources, the only person’s behavior we have any realistic control over is our own. The more classes and opportunities we take that help us to be more introspective and understand ourselves and how our behavior impacts other people, the better off all things become. You learn new things about yourself or recognize when you are causing a situation. Switch your behavior that little bit and it makes for better connections and ability to lead. Whenever you have to partner with other people, the more you know about yourself, the better equipped you are to know about other people.

What has been your proudest accomplishment while working at UW-Platteville?

Working through my dissertation was huge. That was a really long process – about five years. That’s probably one of the things I am most proud of. It is an expensive investment in a job I like – and I love my job. The support from my director at the time, Dr. Susan Hansen, was phenomenal. She was there as a mentor. Even the support from former students who know I am at that point of about being done and getting those emails of encouragement and congratulations means so much.  That was probably one of the biggest things I have ever done. In terms of the commitment that was required, it took a village. Having my kids watch me work towards something that big was really important to me. I am especially appreciative of my daughter, who spent many nights helping with her youngest brother so I could turn in papers or meet deadlines.

You are the advisor of a few student organizations, including Ballroom Dance Club. How did you become involved with them?

I am involved in both the Society for Human Resource Management and the Ballroom Dance Club. For the Society for Human Resource Management, it was a natural fit with where I come from and what I like to do. I co-advise with Misty Lemon-Rogers, and it is an awesome group for every student. Every one of us is going to work for somebody or be in an organization. Having this supportive group looks great on a résumé and gives you opportunities for networking and to get additional feedback.

The Ballroom Dance Club is my fun time. It is just this freeing thing where I get to be myself- I'm Caryn who gets to go dance. About four or five years ago, the gentleman who had been the advisor for the club had decided that he could no longer do it. He approached me and asked if I would co-advise with him. I agreed ... and then very quickly he was gone, and it was just me. So, the group of students we have has been kind of the same group of students for the last few years. Most of them are getting ready to graduate and I am sad – happy for them, but sad. But being involved with these two clubs ended up being two of the best decisions I have made.

Interview conducted by: Abbey Pignatari, Student Writer, Communications, 608-342-1194, To nominate someone for a Pioneer Spotlight, email


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