Mr. Memory Chip

Tech giant Jeff Kessenich helps UW students launch their own STEM careers.

Jeff Kessenich

Kessenich has pledged an estate gift of $1 million to need-based scholarships for students in mathematics, computer science, and data science. Frank Woodbery

The next time you take vacation photos on your phone or store homework on a flash drive, you can thank Jeff Kessenich ’83.

His name is on 11 patents issued for the memory chips that improve storage reliability in smartphones, digital cameras, and other devices. Kessenich used his UW degree in Applied Mathematics, Engineering, and Physics to pursue a career in the semiconductor industry, eventually retiring from Micron Technology.

“I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate on projects with so many intelligent and incredibly talented individuals,” he says. “Often I felt like we were writing a new page in the textbooks every week.”

Kessenich is now on a mission to help today’s students launch their own careers in technology. He has pledged an estate gift of $1 million to need-based scholarships for students in mathematics, computer science, and data science. Thanks to the Patterson Match, a generous gift from James Patterson and Susan Patterson ’79, MFA’82 that underwrites student support, an endowed scholarship was created in Kessenich’s honor.

After he retired, the Vancouver, Washington, resident taught briefly at a community college. He came away from the experience struck by how hard it was for many students to pay for an education. “If students really want to go to college, I don’t want them dissuaded by the fear of taking on a large amount of student loan debt,” he says. “I feel good doing something about that.”

Kessenich says he could have directed his gift to a number of universities, “but I have a soft spot for Wisconsin, and I value the education I got there.”

Kessenich’s desire to give back extends to numerous initiatives in his local community. He tutors disadvantaged high school students in math. A master gardener, he’s a neighborhood tree steward and also a “stream steward.” Kessenich has received an award for his work in tree planting and natural area restoration, as well as for volunteering at a cat shelter.

When we spoke with Kessenich, he was wearing a UW T-shirt because the hockey team was playing that day. “I’m always supporting my Badgers,” he says.

Published in the Spring 2020 issue

Tags: Alumni, financial aid, scholarship

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