Donor establishes endowment to support Kennesaw State competition teams, Honors students

KENNESAW, Ga. | Aug 2, 2021

Longtime Technical Manager Jim J. Hills has always been a firm believer that competition breeds ingenuity.

KSU Motorsports
KSU Motorsports
While studying at the former Southern Technical Institute, now Kennesaw State University, he regularly competed in the college’s famed bathtub races, where he honed his engineering skills building motorized tubs he then raced against his classmates. Now, he and his wife Wanda aim to inspire the next generation of engineers through a $1 million endowment, the largest single gift in the history of KSU’s Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (SPCEET), providing support for KSU competition teams and scholarships for engineering students in the University’s Keeping Sights Upward (KSU) Journey Honors College.

Bolstered by an 150 percent endowment matching program established last year by Rosemary and John Brown and the KSU Foundation, the gift will also support the procurement of more equipment for various labs in KSU’s Southern Polytechnic College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (SPCEET).

“I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for all of the legacy institutions that comprise Kennesaw State, so the engineering college was always the natural choice for where I felt I could make the biggest impact,” Hills said. “I strongly believe in higher education and competition teams, and their ability to provide transformative learning experiences that spawn highly successful careers. I also hope this will inspire other alumni to dig deep and make substantial contributions to the university that will benefit students and society in so many ways.”

Hills, who holds a degree in mechanical engineering technology, credits his personal success to his experience at the University. After graduating in 1977, he would immediately enter industry by taking a job with AT&T-Bell Labs.  After gaining large corporation R&D experience he developed an entrepreneurial spirit and joined a small Marietta-based engineering/testing firm Applied Technical Services (ATS) co-founded by his father, Jim F. Hills, Bill Lewis and Ralph Johnson.

Today, Hills serves as president of ATS and employs more than 100 KSU alumni, co-ops and working students.

In addition to supporting Honors students, Hills said he gravitated toward supporting KSU’s engineering competition teams, particularly KSU Motorsports, since they represented a foundational part of his own undergraduate journey. Though the bathtub races ended in 1991, KSU Motorsports continues to provide an outlet for students to test their engineering prowess against other institutions nationwide on an annual basis.

“There is just so much that an aspiring engineer can learn from designing and building in a competition setting,” he said. “I consider that a formative experience during my collegiate years, and that spirit is certainly still alive and well at Kennesaw State.”

Ian Ferguson, dean of SPCEET, said Hills’ experience at the institution is indicative of the type of opportunities the college aims to create.

“We are fortunate to have alumni like Jim who see the value in education and give back to ensure others have the same experience,” Ferguson said. “Through his generosity, the engineering college will continue to generate transformational learning experiences for students who, in return, will become our next leaders in engineering.”

– Travis Highfield

Related Stories

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit