The Citadel

The Military College of South Carolina


Dr. John Michael Palms

palms1John Michael Palms was born June 6, 1935, in Rijswijk, The Netherlands. The Palms family left for the United States shortly after Germany invaded Poland, returned to Holland after the war, and then permanently immigrated to the United States in 1951. He became a citizen in 1956.

Dr. Palms’ career has been in academia, national security, business and volunteerism. He graduated in 1958 from the Citadel as a distinguished Air Force ROTC cadet and received a regular commission in the Air force. His first assignment was at Emory University where he received a Master's degree in Physics in 1959. Then as a Nuclear Weapons Officer, he worked at Kirkland Air Force base, Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia Labs and also taught physics at the United States Air Force Academy. After his Air Force active duty, he completed his Ph.D. in physics at The University of New Mexico with a dissertation at Los Alamos in 1966. He then joined the faculty at Emory University. There he served for twenty-three years moving from an assistant professor to the University's Chief Academic Officer. He held the Charles Howard Chandler Chaired Professorship of Radiation and Environmental Physics. He was a member of the National Nuclear Accreditation Board and the Advisory Council for the National Academy of Nuclear Training of the Institute for Nuclear Power Operations. He also was a co-head of the team who designed the public assisted Ecological Based Environmental Radiation Monitoring Programs for the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant after the plant’s accident. In 200l, the NORTH AMERICAN TECHNICAL CENTER BOARD chose him The Radiation Protection Professional of the Year. After moving from Emory to Georgia State University as President for two years, he moved to be President of the University of South Carolina in Columbia. After serving in that capacity for almost twelve years, he assumed his role as Distinguished Professor for five more years retiring in 2007. He has published over sixty scientific and technical papers and reports.

His business experience includes serving for twenty-one years on the boards of Exelon Corporation, the largest nuclear utility with nineteen nuclear power plants and on the board of Assurant Corporation where he has served as Chairman from 2006-2011. Other public corporate boards include The Geo Group, one of the largest public prison companies in the world and Computer Task Group, (an information technology company).

National security service involves being on the board for twenty years, ten as chairman of the Institute for Defense Analyses, a Federally Funded Research and Development not for profit agency which advices the Secretary of Defense and undersecretaries and other federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, The National Science Foundation, the Office of Science and Technology (serving the President's science advisor) and the Department of Energy. He currently serves as a MENTOR to IDA’s Defense Science Study Group.

His volunteer work involves his membership in the Catholic Church as it relates to higher education. He and his wife, Norma, both recently received the Papal Honor Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross from the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, XVI, the highest award given to a lay person for church work, for that contribution. He also received The Wisdom Award from Mepkin Abbey, Cistercian Trappists Monastery. He serves on the board of the Nederland American Foundation as Chair of the Education Committee. The foundation among other programs between the Nederlands and the US supports Fulbright Scholar exchanges between the two countries. He also supports numerous other volunteer organizations including Spoleto Festival USA, the United Way and The Citadel Advisory Committee for Math and Science.

Dr. Palms has received a number of honors. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa (H). He received the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor given to Emory faculty members. He served on the White House Fellows selection committee and chaired the Rhodes Scholar Selection Committee in Georgia and South Carolina. He holds Honorary Degrees from the Citadel (1990) and the University of South Carolina (2002) and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of New Mexico (2003) and the Citadel (2009). He has also received the Order of the Palmetto, the highest honor given by the State of South Carolina (2002).

Exelon named a scholarship in his honor at Purdue University and Linn State Technical College. In 2012 the University of South Carolina named a building, The John M. Palms Center for Graduate Science Research, in his honor.

He currently is the Distinguished President Emeritus and Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina and resides in Charleston, South Carolina.

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