William W. Kingston ’59

From his earliest days at Cornell, William (Bill) Kingston ’59 knew that he wanted to give back to the university community that supported him through thick and thin.

As a student in Cornell’s five-year engineering program, Bill immediately felt a sense of welcome and fellowship. He was a recipient of a Cornell National Scholarship, now called the Meinig Family Cornell National Scholars program (MFCNS), and he was active in Men’s Crew, Men’s Glee Club, and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. But Bill’s father passed away during his freshman year at Cornell, not long after his mother had passed away when he was a junior in high school.

During this tumultuous time, Bill felt buoyed by the support of his SAE fraternity brothers, who helped him fly home to Denver, Colorado, for his father’s funeral. Cornell also increased his scholarship to cover the cost of his five-year degree. This sense of generosity and warmth set the tone for Bill’s future contributions to his alma mater.

“I want to do whatever I can to help ensure that Cornell can bring to the lives of its future students the same joy and richness that it brought to mine, and that’s all the motivation you need,” Bill said.

Post-graduation, Bill quickly began his involvement with the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network (CAAAN), and also became secretary and treasurer of the Class of 1959. Bill was elected to Cornell University Council, where he worked on the admissions and financial aid committees, later becoming a life member. Together with his wife Jacqueline (Jackie) Grimm Kingston ’61, Bill also dedicated a Cornell Tradition Fellowship in honor of his mother, a civil engineer: The Violet Wochner Kingston Tradition Fellowship.

You have to encourage people to think about themselves and the way in which they have benefited and grown from the Cornell experience and say, ‘Don’t you want to pay that forward?’
—William W. Kingston ’59

To encourage others to consider volunteering, Bill fondly looks back on his long involvement with CAAAN as the perfect entry point.

Bill credits his own conversations with alumni as the linchpin in his decision to attend Cornell over other top programs. He met with alumni of many of the colleges that accepted him, and the alumni of other schools spoke of the quality of their education and what it meant for their careers, but didn’t have a lot of good to say about the college experience itself.

“When I met with Cornell alumni,” Bill said, “they thought not only was it a great engineering education, but they also raved about the experience they had. It really meant something to them.”

Bill also loved the concept of the five-year engineering program, then still a bachelor’s degree, because it allowed him time to fully explore the liberal arts outside of his engineering studies.

The extended program length also afforded him the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet his wife, Jackie, during his fifth year while he was in Men’s Glee Club and she was in Women’s Glee Club, now called Cornell University Chorus.

Bill earned a master’s of engineering from Yale University, and worked for United Technologies (UTC) for many years in the Norden Systems Division, where he became executive vice president and chief operating officer in 1986. In 1989, Bill founded WK Systems to provide independent technical and management consulting services. He retired in 2016 but has remained active in his volunteer positions.

In 2017, Bill received the Cornell Rowing Association Annual Fund award for his long-time support of crew. More recently, he originated the idea of a virtual rowing simulator to aid in training, and has sponsored an ongoing project that uses a helmet-mounted 3D camera to take video from the rower’s perspective while the crew is on the water.

“When that’s displayed on a virtual reality headset, it looks like you’re really on the water,” Bill said, explaining how rowers can use the system to match the stroke while they practice indoors on an ergometer. While the system is still in working prototype form, coaches will eventually be able to compare a rower’s performance on the “erg” to data recorded on the water from the oarlocks about the stroke, oar position, and force to give feedback to the rower.

Most satisfying, Bill said, has been his continued work with Cornell National Scholars, the program that was so crucial to helping him succeed as a student. He enjoys engaging with incoming student scholars and current Cornellians in the program and connecting them with alumni of the program who can help them develop their leadership capabilities.

“You have to encourage people to think about themselves and the way in which they have benefited and grown from the Cornell experience and say, ‘Don’t you want to pay that forward?’” Bill said.

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