Joseph and Sandra Palais’ philanthropy inspires the next generation of engineers and educators.
It’s hard not to think of the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering without picturing one of its prominent figures, Professor Emeritus Joseph Palais.
The current graduate program chair has worn many hats at Arizona State University over the 64 years he’s been on campus — first as a summer student in 1957, continuing through a storied tenure as a professor and presently as a mentor and philanthropist.
Now he adds campus resident to his credentials. Palais, along with his wife, Sandra, now call Mirabella at ASU home. The senior living community situated in the edge of the ASU Tempe campus offers the Palaises a sweeping view of “A” Mountain and a relaxed, maintenance-free lifestyle.
But the biggest draw to Mirabella for Palais was the opportunity to stay connected to the bustling campus that helped shape his career.
Paying it forward
Staying connected to ASU has always been a driving force for the Palaises, and they found a way to make meaningful connections through philanthropy.
In 1998 the couple established the Palais Senior Design Prize. This monetary award is presented each semester and recognizes the best senior design project in electrical engineering. Student teams are evaluated on how their capstone design projects demonstrate technical prowess and clear value for society. The students’ ability to communicate their vision in ways that can be understood by people other than scientists and engineers is also a critical criterion.
To date, the Palais Senior Design Prize has been awarded to 14 teams, representing 64 students.
Five years later, the pair introduced the Palais Doctoral Student award, which is presented annually to the best graduating doctoral student in the electrical engineering program. The students selected are nominated by faculty members, have at least a 3.75 GPA and have at least one journal or conference publication.
The Palais Doctoral Student award has been given 19 times since its debut in the 2002–2003 academic year.
The newest venture for the Palais’ philanthropy honors his colleagues with the Palais Distinguished Faculty Scholar award.
Established in 2016, the faculty award is bestowed on an outstanding all-around faculty member teaching in the electrical engineering program. The faculty member must demonstrate excellence in teaching, research and service. The monetary award is gifted annually.
Palais credits his generosity to the ASU community for one simple reason:
“I give because I was given the opportunity to do what I love for a lifetime,” Palais says. “How could you not give back?”
Even with a legacy well established through the three awards, and his residency on campus, Palais has no plans on going anywhere soon. He is looking ahead to a post-pandemic world and hoping to establish office hours at Mirabella to help advise future electrical engineers.
Whether in person or on Zoom, Palais can offer the same advice to the up-and-coming engineers he has provided over the years.
“Electrical engineering is a wonderful profession,” he says. “Every imaginable area needs electrical engineers, from wearable devices to health applications to even practicing law. There are no limitations to this degree.”
When not juggling one of his many graduate program chair duties, meeting with an award recipient or engrossed in a rousing conversation with a colleague, you are most likely to find Palais enjoying the good life at Mirabella. The 85-year-old former marathon runner is taking full advantage of the complex’s athletic facilities, the exceptional dining options and live performances from students in the School of Art at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.
Learn more about Joseph Palais
Joseph Palais is a longtime faculty member, staff member and advocate for ASU.
After receiving his doctorate from the University of Michigan, Palais joined the engineering faculty at ASU in 1964. Retiring 47 years later, he continues to serve as graduate program chair in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.
His research interests include fiber-optic communications, holography and distance education. He delivered more than 150 short courses in fiber optics to organizations throughout the U.S. and for the ASU online enterprise (initially the ASU Center for Professional Development and subsequently the Global Outreach and Extended Education program, for which he serves as academic director).
He is the author of the textbook “Fiber Optic Communications,” which has been used at universities worldwide and has been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Persian. His honors and distinctions include IEEE Life Fellow, IEEE EAB achievement award and the Daniel Jankowski Legacy award, among others.