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ASU engineering ties 3 generations together


Eric Povilus (left), William Povilus (center) and Blake Povilus (right) pose for a photo with their diplomas from Arizona State University.

From left: Eric Povilus, William Povilus and Blake Povilus pose for a photo with their diplomas from Arizona State University. The Poviluses represent three generations of ASU alumni. Photo courtesy Blake Povilus

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July 11, 2023

When retired U.S. Air Force Colonel William Povilus graduated from Arizona State University in 1973 with a master’s degree in industrial engineering, he didn’t know he was starting a legacy of Sun Devils that now stretches to three generations.

William’s son, Eric Povilus, later graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 1991. While at ASU, Eric met Kimberly, a marketing major who graduated in 1992 and would become his wife.

Their son, Blake Povilus, went on to attend ASU as well, graduating from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Barrett, The Honors College in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering. After graduation, Blake again chose ASU to continue his studies for a doctoral degree in materials science and engineering.

The family’s long legacy of ASU engineering graduates began when William chose to attend ASU after being encouraged by the Air Force to obtain a master’s degree in industrial engineering. He specialized in operations management.

“Out of a choice of several renowned institutions, ASU offered the most robust program,” he says.

William remembers a small engineering department housing classrooms, lab space and the campus computer center. He recalls the computer center holding only one or two large IBM computers that needed to be kept in a thoroughly air-conditioned building to operate properly.

“Trudging back and forth from the IBM card punch machines to the computer center to run programs and waiting long hours for the results sticks in my mind,” William says. “Now, of course, similar programming is quick, and results are almost instant when using ASU facilities.”

Professor Emeritus Charles Hoyt served as William’s mentor during his industrial engineering studies.

“Dr. Hoyt became both a life tutor and friend,” William says. “The many lessons he taught went beyond the classroom and provided me with enthusiasm and motivation to continue excelling in the Air Force as a senior officer.”

After graduating, he used his newly acquired knowledge in his role as commander of an Air Force management engineering squadron at his next station in Colorado.

William and his team developed labor force authorization standards for Air Force operations throughout North America.

After the assignment in Colorado, William went on to work at the Pentagon as director of labor force programs and led the development of organization algorithms for the entire Air Force.

After advancing William’s knowledge and career, ASU then provided Eric with the foundation for his own path.

The next generation’s journey from Alaska to Arizona

While William was stationed in Alaska, Eric was in high school and deciding where to go to college.

During his junior year, he visited ASU’s Tempe campus. The computer science program met requirements for the scholarship he received through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. Friendly students, the computer science department and the campus amenities convinced him to enroll.

Having started studies for his degree in 1987, Eric remembers spending numerous late nights doing programming in the Engineering Center A building’s computer lab.

“Then the best thing occurred in 1989: Students were allowed remote access with dialup modems,” he says. “That way, I could spend my late nights programming from my apartment.”

After graduation, Eric began his career as an Air Force officer and started taking classes for his master’s degree at ASU. Nine months later, he began active duty working as a computer and communications officer in Mississippi and Colorado.

Eric finished work for his master’s degree in computer information systems, ultimately graduating from Missouri’s Webster University while in the Air Force. He completed his service with the rank of captain before moving to Salt Lake City to work in the technology industry during its decade of rapid expansion in the 1990s.

Currently an IT director and senior information technology project manager at the dental health company Ultradent Products, Eric has a career spanning 25 years of working in IT — at USRobotics, 3Com, HPBoart Longyear and Nature’s Sunshine.

Reflecting on his experience compared with that of today’s ASU engineering students, Eric says the Fulton Schools has since grown in both size and prominence to become a leader in engineering education.

“The Fulton Schools gave me the skills, knowledge and confidence to contribute to the many companies I worked for through the years,” Eric says. “In my days, engineering was just another one of many colleges at ASU. But over the past three decades, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering has become a respected engineering leader and one of the largest colleges at ASU.”

Eric’s son, Blake, began attending the large, modern version of the Fulton Schools in 2018.

Engineering a new path

Eric encouraged Blake to attend ASU’s Summer Engineering Experience as a rising high school senior to explore different engineering fields.

“I had initially considered chemical engineering or the astronautics part of aerospace engineering, but I had never heard of materials science and engineering,” Blake says. “I was absolutely enthralled by the mix of chemistry, physics and engineering in the major. That’s when I decided to study it for my undergraduate degree.”

During the first year of his undergraduate program, Blake’s FSE 100: Introduction to Engineering class completed a group project under the instruction of Shahriar Anwar, a materials science and engineering senior research specialist, to design small dome structures that could withstand 10,000 pounds of force.

The group with the best-performing structure would compete in a design competition for geodesic domes, Domesday, sponsored by semiconductor fabrication equipment company ASM International. Blake’s team not only became the best in the class, but went on to win the international competition, marking the first time an ASU team took the top prize.

As he continued undergraduate studies, Blake conducted projects in materials science and engineering under Professor Sefaattin Tongay and Assistant Professor Sui Yang, two faculty members in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, part of the Fulton Schools.

As he approached graduation, Blake knew he wanted to further his materials science and engineering studies by pursuing a doctoral degree. He applied to four different doctoral programs.

“Ultimately, it came down to choosing between ASU and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign,” Blake says. “I enjoyed my time at ASU and had been involved with research since my sophomore year. Since I was already established here at ASU and had a research project I could continue, I decided to stay.”

Blake chose to focus on synthesis and optical characterization of 2D materials for his research. His work includes research on materials for 2D semiconductors, magnets and perovskites. Due to his growing knowledge in the field, Blake also assisted Yang in mentoring a student for ASU’s Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering program.

Blake says he enjoys research in materials science and engineering and hopes to continue it after his education, adding that it is the major reason he is pursuing a doctoral degree. He plans to finish his doctoral studies in 2026.

When William thinks about how his grandson’s experience attending the Fulton Schools differs from his own in the 1970s, he sees what is now a beacon of engineering education.

“In the 1970s, ASU did not have national recognition in engineering,” William says. “Through the years, not only have the facilities grown and become world class, but ASU now stands out in many engineering fields, like materials science and engineering, and has a reputation for graduating engineers and scientists who are snapped up by companies worldwide.”

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