King Creativity

Joey King Interview

We wanted to know more about Joey King’s own experience as a creative Southwestern student who had his own “out of the box” ideas, so we asked him what it was like.

Joey King can easily recall his undergraduate years at Southwestern. Creativity inspired him then just as much as it does now. But back in the early 1990’s, King says, resources for creative inquiry were much less accessible.

“When I was an undergraduate, I did a lot of independent work and there was almost no funding for it,” explains King. This experience would be the inspiration of what we now know as the King Creativity Fund.

After graduating from Southwestern in 1993, King went to graduate school at the University of Washington during the internet boom. While in graduate school, King was a member of the founding team of F5 Networks in 1996. The company went public in 1999, trading under the symbol FFIV on the NASDAQ stock exchange.  During the height of the Great Recession, the company stayed steady and strong, a hot tech stock picked up by the S&P 500 even as it dropped such storied firms as Eastman Kodak and the New York Times.

After achieving such success, King turned his attention to his alma mater.  “I wanted to do something for Southwestern.”

And he did, making a gift of $500,000 in 2000 to endow the King Creativity Fund. The goal was to inspire and encourage students to pursue creative curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular endeavors and creative inquiry.

These creative pursuits, says King, “are what I think liberal arts students do more than almost anyone.”

In 2010, a “best in show” prize was created with an additional grant from King. The Walter Milton Potter Prize, or Potter Prize, was named after Southwestern University Computer Science Professor Walt Potter, who was one of King’s mentors when he was a student at Southwestern. The student who creates the project or concept that is most impressive and generates the most interest is awarded $2,500 to continue the work or do something completely new. Winning the Potter Prize, however, is tough.  

“There was one year where we didn’t give it, because we just didn’t think they were good enough,” says King. “We started the Potter Prize with the idea that we could encourage really the best kind of work. So the whole thing is continually evolving.”

The 16 years of the King Creativity Fund have brought King much joy as he has seen his gift change students’ lives. He enjoys reflecting on the hundreds of projects that have been created.

“Long before we had a football team, we had this group that wanted to start a drum corps,” says King.  “So we had drum corps for years, performing at all sorts of events. The equipment is in the warehouse apparently, so if you wanted to start one, there you go! There were just all sorts of interesting projects.”

King says it’s about letting students think creatively and step outside-the-box.

“Even if they’re doing something that is curricular, like doing a musical or a play, often times they do it in a way that they would have never done in a classroom because they have never been allowed to do it that way,” says King. “It’s a process that leads to insights.”

The King Creativity Fund “has led to a more institutional deliberance in recognizing all of that,” King says. “All those things that are going on outside of the classroom lead to students who are better actualized for doing independent work in a way that is true to the liberal arts process that we consider part of their essential education.”

He looks forward to the many exceptional projects that the future holds.