A Visionary Gift
“I believe very strongly that the growth of the standard of living in the world over time has been driven by technological innovations,” Kresa says. “Where that happens, first and foremost, is at universities like Caltech.”
Kresa, a senior trustee and board chairman emeritus, first became involved with Caltech because of geography: his work with Northrop Grumman Corporation brought him to the West Coast. His engineering and aeronautics background gave the MIT alum a natural interest in Caltech, and he cherishes both institutions equally for their contributions to science and engineering.
“I wanted to stay close to an institution at the top level of scientific development,” Kresa says. “I thought this was a great opportunity for me to get my brain going. And that’s what I did.”
His generosity toward Caltech far exceeds the 22 years he has spent serving as a trustee. He and his late wife, Joyce, contributed substantially to endowed chairs: together, they created the Joyce and Kent Kresa Professorship in Engineering and Applied Science in 2009. Five years later, in 2014, Caltech announced that the Kresas had established the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair for the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy (PMA) with a $10 million endowment. That chair is currently held by Fiona Harrison, the Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics.
Leadership chairs allow division leaders to allocate funds toward purposes they view as having great potential—innovations on the path to discoveries, new laboratories, and important objectives that couldn’t be pursued quickly enough in any other way.
“It means that if somebody has an idea that looks really promising, they can get started on it immediately instead of writing a proposal that may bear fruit in a year or two,” Kresa says. “That makes a difference. They now have this pot that’s available to them—I thought that was a very, very innovative idea.”
Kresa supports a number of top-tier research universities, but Caltech has always stood out for the sheer quantity of groundbreaking research it produces.
“It’s a unique organization in that it’s so small, and yet it does really big science,” Kresa says. “Staying close to the evolution of new scientific ideas is fun because you can imagine where it will lead—and sometimes it’s even greater than you could imagine.”