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UT prepared Joel Seligstein for success in Silicon Valley, and now the 2006 alumnus has given back to his alma mater.

Seligstein, a graduate of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, recently gave to the department’s Excellence Endowment, which is used to enhance the educational experience for students.

Min H. Kao Professor and Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science head Leon Tolbert, left, and UT alumnus Joel Seligstein stand outside the Joel Seligstein Faculty Office in the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building. The office was named for Seligstein in recognition of his contribution to the department’s Excellence Endowment.

In recognition of that gift, the department named room 323 in the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building the Joel Seligstein Faculty Office.

“I’m blessed to be in a position to give back, to be able to support my college,” said Seligstein. “I appreciated my time here and all that I learned here. As a student you don’t think you’ll ever be in a position to do something like this, so it’s gratifying.”

Seligstein had a remarkable rise through the tech ranks after graduating from UT, beginning with his first job at Facebook.

There he helped lead the team that developed one of the most common communication methods in use today: Facebook Messenger.

When Seligstein started with the company Facebook had 15 million users, compared to more than a billion today. He got a unique view of the company’s meteoric rise from the inside, an experience he said he was happy to use to address current students.

“It’s a good example of never knowing where things will lead, because I actually started on it as a side project,” said Seligstein. “We learned our way through the technology involved in our spare time, which led to new questions and new developments.

“That’s the big takeaway, that what you think the focus should be isn’t necessarily what it becomes.”

Like many in the tech industry, Seligstein eventually left an industry giant to found successful startups.

Beyond that, his success has also paved the way for him to pursue a passion not typically associated with Memphis-area natives.

“I’ve always liked the Winter Olympics, particularly the sliding sports like bobsled, luge, etc.,” said Seligstein. “I was looking for something to challenge me, so I took up skeleton, the face-forward version of luge.”

Far from being a novice, Seligstein has actually performed his way onto the Israeli national team after being told he was too old for the US squad.


David Goddard (865-974-0683,