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New scholarship honors late electrical engineering alumnus

Joe and Sarah Nucci at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Above: Sarah and Joe Nucci pictured in 1998 at the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. Photo courtesy of Sarah Nucci

When Arizona State University alumnus Joe Nucci passed away suddenly last year at age 58, his wife, Sarah Nucci, knew in her heart that a scholarship in his name would be the best way to honor and celebrate his life.

“We met at ASU. Joe got his electrical engineering degree from ASU, and he encouraged me to get my master of arts degree at ASU. Overall, he was a big proponent of education,” Sarah says. “This scholarship celebrates his drive for academic excellence and love of learning by helping another generation of scholars achieve their educational dreams.”

The Joseph E. Nucci, Jr. Memorial Scholarship for Academic Engineering Excellence will be offered to students studying in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, and is a reflection of the honorable life Joe lived and the positive impact he made on so many.

Joe Nucci pictured in 2019 at an ASU Homecoming football game.

Joe Nucci pictured in 2019 at an ASU homecoming football game. Photo courtesy of Sarah Nucci

Championed for his academics, research and charismatic personality

Joe studied electrical engineering and received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools. He is remembered fondly by his classmates and professors.

“Joe and I went to graduate school together, and as graduate assistants we hit it off right away,” says friend Keith Rowley. “We worked on the world’s smallest transistor at the time, which is now used in every cell phone and satellite, and widely used in various other devices. He was technically brilliant and could work through any challenge at hand.”

Professor Emeritus Ronald Roedel was on Joe’s master’s committee in the 1980s and reminisces on his magnetic personality and shared love of research, rock ‘n’ roll, football and politics.

“Joe was a fantastic student, later an engineer and always a comedian, among other things,” Roedel says. “He was the kind of person who made individualism a going concern. He will be missed.”

One of the engineering professors who helped guide Joe’s studies recalls his time working with him.

“He was an extraordinarily bright and dedicated [student], one of a cohort that befriended me and made me feel welcome and valued,” says Michael Kozicki, a professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. “He had a great sense of humor and clearly enjoyed life — I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone quite so upbeat.”

Associate Research Scientist Stefan Myhajlenko from the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering recalls the sense of camaraderie that Joe brought to their research environment in the mid-to-late 1980s.

“Joe was building a microwave time of flight system in a vacuum chamber — essentially from scratch — at the time we met. I loved his positive, can-do attitude,” Myhajlenko says. “He was a great character, always willing to offer others a helping hand — even if he was fighting his own experimental setbacks — and, above all, he was a good friend.”

During Joe’s time at ASU, he met friend and electrical engineering Associate Professor, Daniel Tylavsky.

“Joe Nucci developed an uncommon command of whatever he put his mind to — incisive, insightful, perspicacious and someone who saw the forest and the trees,” Tylavski says. “As good as he was technically, he was an even better man — a model of what it means to be human in the word’s most spiritually demanding sense. I count myself lucky to have known him, to have felt the warmth of his friendship, to be inexplicably stilled by the ease of his manner.”

Leading a successful career

Following graduation, Joe began his career at Intel in Chandler, Arizona, and worked his way up to engineering manager after displaying strong leadership skills in his prior roles. During his tenure at Intel, Joe worked in quality and reliability, destructive physical analysis and customer quality.

Joe’s professional journey then led him to Orbital Sciences, now part of Northrop Grumman, where he became a manager of supplier quality assurance and led electrical, electro-mechanical, mechanical, composite, ordinance, pneumatics and propulsion teams.

Joe’s most recent supervisor, Eugene Parks, senior manager for product assurance for Northrop Grumman, was immediately impressed by his managerial style.

“Joe always led by example and would constantly encourage his team to challenge themselves either with higher learning, public speaking or pursuing career development,” Parks says. “He was the most influential person in helping me establish my career at Orbital Sciences.”

In addition to dedicating 30 years to the engineering industry, Joe earned an additional master’s degree in aeronautical systems engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, during his time at Northrop Grumman.

Recognized for his accomplishments on and off the clock

Throughout his career, Joe received several accolades further cementing his dedication to the field of engineering.

At Intel, he received the Quality Team Engagement Methodology for New Business Start-Ups award as well as a Chairman Excellence Award for Exemplary Leadership and Direction. He also presented two papers at Orbital Sciences symposiums, at which one of them won the “Best Session” paper award.

Rowley, once his peer at ASU, also had the opportunity to learn under Joe’s leadership.

“A few years after graduating from ASU, I worked under him at Intel and it became obvious that he was gifted at managing others by inspiring, motivating and challenging the teams he managed,” Rowley says. “This was in addition to being the most intelligent engineer I’ve ever known. He put his heart and soul into his career.”

Along with his professional and academic responsibilities, Joe was professionally affiliated with the American Society for Quality, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Eta Kappa Nu, Tau Beta Pi and the American Radio Relay League. Joe was eager to share knowledge with the next generation of engineers and occasionally presented guest lectures on quality and technology topics within the Fulton Schools.

An engineering legacy continues

Joe’s presence and dedication to his field truly contributed to making the world a better place. His absence has left a gaping hole in the hearts of his family and friends.

“Joe was such a kind man. I remember when he was willing to help my best friend look for a job in the engineering field even though he didn’t know him,” says Wadell Blackwell, a close friend of the Nuccis. “We all have lost a wonderful man.”

Joe’s kindness, generosity and commitment to engineering are all part of an impactful legacy. It’s a legacy that is written in Fulton Schools history and will continue to live in every student who receives this scholarship.

“In Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, he referenced the better angels among us. I truly believe Joe epitomized this reference,” Sarah says. “As an honorable person, his enlightened, calm and virtuous judgment meant he gave his best guidance to the people he cared about — myself, his family, friends and his professional colleagues.”

About The Author

Sona Srinarayana

Sona Srinarayana joined the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering marketing and communications team in February 2020 and is based at The Polytechnic School. She brings with her, a decade of communications experience in various industries, including higher education. She earned her B.A. degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is an Arizona native.

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