Computer science professor Kim Kihlstrom lost her battle with cancer but leaves a legacy in the lives of her students and colleagues.
Kim Kihlstrom loved baking chocolate chip cookies and wearing matching dresses with her two young daughters. An accomplished scholar, she actively recruited women to study computer science and other STEM subjects. She graduated from Stanford with a degree in electrical engineering and returned to school years later, the mother of three children and the wife of physics professor Ken Kihlstrom, to earn a doctorate in computer engineering at UC Santa Barbara.
For 14 years, she took her gift and flair for hospitality into the classroom as a computer science professor, always making her students feel welcome and supported and often inviting them into her home. This gracious, lovely, smart, determined and cheerful woman died of ovarian cancer December 12, 2013. She was 56.
“Kim touched hundreds of lives through her professional work and personal care and ministry,” says President Gayle D. Beebe. “She always vibrantly expressed her deep and abiding faith. From the moment Pam and I arrived at Westmont, she was a source of encouragement, wisdom and joy. She was one of the kindest and most considerate individuals we have ever known. We’ll always remember her remarkable intellect, her warm and gracious spirit, and her caring and hospitable touch.”
Kim taught part time for 10 years until she began her doctoral studies, and she joined the computer science faculty in 1999. She won the Teacher of the Year award for the Natural and Behavioral Sciences as well as the Faculty Research Award. She and Ken led Westmont’s Europe Semester twice.
Kim was the principal investigator for two four-year National Science Foundation scholarship programs for Westmont computer science, engineering and mathematics students. She also directed a two-year National Science Foundation grant for computer security research in 2005. In 2004, she received the Wilkes Award for the best paper published in a volume of the Computer Journal.
Generous friends and alumni contributed more than $100,000 to the Kim Kihlstrom Computer Science Scholarship Endowment to provide financial aid for incoming students interested in computer science. The college has also established the Kim Kihlstrom Scholarship for Women in the Sciences, which will assist two incoming female students who’ve chosen to major in one of the natural and behavioral sciences. These two scholarships total $460,000. The Mathematics and Computer Science Department has named one of its top honors the Kim P. Kihlstrom Award, which recognizes a graduating senior in computer science who has done outstanding coursework and research.
After Kim died, former students posted tributes on her Facebook page. “Kim inspired me to be a better person, a better student and a better follower of Christ,” said Nick Burwell ’06.
“She was beautiful from the inside out, brilliant, amazing, generous, selfless, loving toward everyone she met, and always smiling,” said Sarah Marler ’11. “Her cookies were incredible, and her giggle was contagious. She brought the very best out of everyone around her as she loved them unconditionally. Her faith was her strength and an inspiration.”
Annie Evans ’07 wrote, “Kim impacted so many lives of students at Westmont, and she made a huge difference in my life and encouraged me to take an unexpected path. Without her, I never would have studied computer science. In a tech world that is dominated by geeky guys, it made all the difference to have a female role model who was intelligent, feminine and following the Lord.”