Entrepreneur and philanthropist Michael Keston passed away Feb. 9. He was 80. Together with his wife, Linda, the Kestons established a tradition of giving at USC that spanned decades.
“As a teacher, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, Michael was deeply committed to supporting pioneering research,” said USC Provost Michael Quick. “His mission was USC’s mission—to contribute to the public good—and we will continue to be inspired by his leadership.”
Both civic-minded individuals, the Kestons have devoted significant philanthropic support to education, medical research and community organizations. In November 2015, the couple awarded USC Viterbi’s Information Sciences Institute its first-ever philanthropic gift: the Michael and Linda Keston Executive Directorship Endowment.
Under the stewardship of Prem Natarajan, the endowment’s executive director, the Kestons’ generous gift advances research across the institute, from fighting human trafficking to tracking internet outages in real-time across the world.
“Michael Keston remained an engineer at heart; a true builder of things filled with a passion for making this world better by solving the hardest problems,” said Natarajan.
“His support created new opportunities for discoveries at ISI and allowed our researchers to pursue innovative research to benefit society at large. It was an honor to work with Michael. We are filled with gratitude for his generosity and we will all deeply miss him.”
Funds provided by the Kestons’ gift also support a lecture series featuring acclaimed speakers from academia, industry and government, and a researcher-in-residence program, allowing visiting scientists to explore new projects with ISI’s world-leading researchers.
“Mike was an inspirational leader and a visionary philanthropist, combining technology and entrepreneurship with a humane focus,” said Yannis Yortsos, dean of USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering. “He was also a treasured friend. His commitment and support to USC Viterbi and ISI will be a lasting and inspiring legacy.”
Engineering to help society
As a philanthropist deeply involved with USC, ISI’s talented, wide-ranging researchers quickly caught Michael Keston’s attention. “When I became aware of the technological advances that were taking place at ISI,” he said in 2015, “the engineer in me wanted to be a part of what helps them occur.”
With the help of the Kestons’ grant, USC computer scientist Wei-Min Shen developed an autonomous robot to monitor underground pipe systems for leaks and breaks.
“Mr. Keston cared deeply about science, technology and society and his genuine concern for natural resources made our project possible,” said Shen, who has been working on the project in partnership with the LA Department of Water and Power.
“As a scientist, I truly admire Mr. Keston’s lifetime achievements. I have always felt, since the first time we met, that he was a true partner in our scientific expeditions for the benefit of society. He will be missed by so many.”
In ISI’s Analysis of Network Traffic (ANT) Lab, ISI research team leader John Heidemann, a research professor of computer science, and his team study internet stability and security. Thanks in part to the Kestons’ endowment, the researchers recently achieved their long-awaited goal: a close-to-live internet outages map, which aims to strengthen the internet’s ability to survive natural disasters.
“Mr. Keston’s support and involvement was key in taking the data we had been collecting about network outages and making it visual and interpretable by non-experts,” said Heidemann. “We’re continuing our work, but his involvement will be missed—his support as instrumental in getting that research off the ground.”
Additional ISI projects that received support from the Kestons in 2018 include smart wearable electronics, a biologically inspired spacecraft, mobile health screening, a glucose-monitoring system and software to combat human trafficking.
Supporting technological advances
A New York City native, Keston attended City University of New York where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in engineering. He then earned a master’s degree in engineering from San Diego State University and a master’s of business administration degree from Wharton Graduate School of the University of Pennsylvania.
As a business leader in the real estate community, he served on the Board of Councilors of the USC Price School of Public Policy and was a member of the Executive Committee of the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate.
He was an adjunct professor in the Master of Real Estate Development program at USC for more than 20 years. An avid clarinet player since he the age of 8, he also studied as an adult at the Colburn Conservancy and USC’s Thorton School of Music.
His wife, Linda, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is a member of the Association of Child Development Specialists and serves on the board of Echo Parenting and Education.