Kevin T. Crofton
Aerospace and Ocean Engineering
Class of 1982, BS
Where is your hometown?
How did what you learned at Virginia Tech impact your career?
For me, the whole Virginia Tech experience gave me a great foundation for a long and (so far) successful career. Obviously, I received an excellent engineering education at Tech. I left the school with a good set of problem solving skills, and an appreciation of the importance of being able look at technical problems from multiple viewpoints — and to analytically interpret experimental data to project outcomes based on a limited set of information.
On top of that, I also left Tech with a number of life lessons. It was at Tech that I realized that there were a lot of people that were a lot smarter than me, which was humbling. That’s not a revelation to anyone who reads this, I know. But at the same time the exposure to really brilliant people in the teaching ranks, and in my peer group was eye opening. New ideas, new ways of looking at topics, areas of debate was a thrill.
I also REALLY gained an appreciation of the value of perseverance — a “never give up” attitude. Getting my degree was no walk in the park. Not all the subject matter came easily to me, and it was in those times that knuckling down and slogging through paid off.
Finally, I suppose that my senior year project (working with six others on my team) really drove home a major life lesson that has served me well so far in my career: with a common set of goals and objectives and a common understanding of each other’s skills/areas of specialization, coupled with a complete reliance on/trust in each other, then given the right resources you/a team/a squad/an organization can accomplish anything.
Why did you choose your profession?
Well, that’s a long answer which I’ll try to pare down to something sensible. When I was growing up my heroes were astronauts. I worshiped guys like Alan Shepard, Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn. To this day, I can remember watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in July 1969. I researched their education: they were virtually all some form of aerospace engineer — and at eight years old (or so) I decided that I was going to be an aerospace engineer — and maybe an astronaut — too!
Plus, I loved building model rockets, building model airplanes and (often unsuccessfully) flying them with varying payloads. It was just plain exciting.
From there it was a natural progression. I’m lucky to have worked in the Aerospace industry for the first part of my career. It was thrilling to be involved with the Marine Corps on the 2.75 and 5-inch Zuni programs, to be part of Harrier flight tests with DoD, and to be at United Technologies as one of their youngest program managers in the Inertial Upper Stage program — and to use that to get DNA in space. Wow!
I left the aerospace industry in the mid-90s to go into the semiconductor sector. However, the skills I learned at Tech and in my early professional life, have carried me through a great career in semiconductor capital equipment development and delivery. We’ve created a leading company in our field, that is well-recognized for technical excellence and extreme focus on contributing to our customers’ success.
Why did you decide to come to Virginia Tech?
It’s simple, really. I was focused on becoming an aerospace engineer… and maybe one day an astronaut. I originally tried to enter the Naval and Air Force Academies, but wasn’t accepted. I was always the first alternate.
When those options closed, I had already looked at all the schools in the nation that had engineering programs offering an aerospace engineering focus. Tech was a natural choice for me — great engineering school, incredible wind tunnel test facilities, a strong history of “experimentalism,” a world renowned faculty, incredibly strong ties to NASA, close to home (but not too close). Plus the graduates from Tech — Homer Hickam, Chris Craft to name a few — were (and still are) a great legacy of excellence. All of those attributes factored into my desire to go to Tech. What a joy to have been accepted! Not sure I would be today.
Who influenced you during your career and/or time at Virginia Tech?
I had a few really inspiring teachers at Tech who clearly were dedicated to bringing on the next generation of engineers. In my case, probably the most influential (positive) professor for me was Richard Goff — a real teacher that took a lot of interest in his students’ success. I had two classes from him in the engineering progression — Structures and Kinematics — and he made the subjects interesting by taking the theory and reducing it to practical application. I’m sure he doesn’t remember me, but Mr. Goff personally encouraged me to persevere through the aero program. From another perspective, those of us that graduated from Tech in those days all have the experience with The Professor whose stated goal was to “weed out” [i.e., fail] at least 50% of the students who walk into their classroom. I won’t mention names, but those people also inspired me in that I told myself I wasn’t going to let them get to me — and I resolved to make it through the program no matter what. Thank goodness those days are (I think) long gone at Tech.
What’s one of your favorite memories from Virginia Tech?
Oh man. My best memory? Maybe my graduation day hearing Chris Craft speak to us. Utterly inspiring.
Other than that... I can close my eyes and smell Blacksburg in autumn. The excitement and fun of going to the football game, going rafting on the New River, the camaraderie.
M.B.A., International Business, American University, 1987
B.S., Aerospace Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1982
President, SPTS Technologies and Executive Vice President, Orbotech Inc. (2006-present)
Sr. Vice President of Global Customer Operations, NEXX Systems, Inc. (2005-06)
Vice President/General Manager of Advanced Packaging and Automation Systems Division, Newport Corporation (2002-05)
Managing Director/General Manager of CMP/Clean Business Unit, Lam Research Corporation (1994-02)
Program Manager of Advanced Products Development, United Technologies Chemical Systems Division of Pratt & Whitney (1987-94)
Manager (1st Lt, 5th Marine Expeditionary Unit, USMC), Design Agent Branch, 2.75 Inch Rocket Systems, USMC, U.S. Department of Defense (1982-87)
ADVISORY BOARDS, COMMITTEES
Member of Virginia Tech Committee of 100
Member of Virginia Tech Foundation Board of Directors
Board Chair, UK’s Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult (present)
Member and Exec Board Member, Semiconductor Equipment and Materials Industry (SEMI) Association International Board of Directors (present)
Class of: 1982
Year Inducted into Academy: 2018