William Cotton began his long, impressive career at Colorado State University in 1974 as an assistant professor in the Atmospheric Science Department. Over the course of 45 years, Cotton supervised and mentored 44 Ph.Ds.’ as well as Master of Science students.
When Cotton first started at CSU, the campus was smaller and quieter, although not a quiet as today with all teaching and learning happening online. With the Atmospheric Science Department settled on the Foothills Campus to the west of the main campus, faculty and researchers formed a pretty close-knit family within the department. And over time, it has grown into a stronger department, according to Cotton.
“Throughout my time at CSU, the department has been a vibrant professional environment, attracting leading professors and having the pick of the top graduate student applicants,” Cotton wrote in his 2019 memoir, The Setting Sun: A Life’s Adventure.
During his college years, Cotton studied atmospheric science in a new department at he State University of New York, Albany, and got his Ph.D. at Penn State, with his dissertation on how silver iodide aerosols affected clouds and storms.
In the 1990s, Cotton also wrote a book, “Storm and Cloud Dynamics,” with Richard Anthes, his former sailing friend in Miami.
While at CSU, Cotton’s main focus of study was on how aerosols, emitted through human activities like fossil fuels, affect clouds and storms.
In the early 2000s, he began a five-year transitional period into retirement. This meant he was no longer advising 15 to 20 graduate students, he wouldn’t be working on four to eight contracts and grants, and he wouldn’t be publishing peer-reviewed research.
Finally, in 2010, at the age of 70, Cotton moved into the role of professor emeritus. He would only be doing moderate research and supervising a few of the classes in the department.
Later this year, whenever it is reschedule, Cotton will be honored at the Milestones event for his many years at CSU. Milestones “celebrates the teaching, research, and service achievements of CSU students, alumni and friends, academic faculty, administrative professionals, and classified staff.”
Some of Cotton’s favorite moments at CSU are the interactions he has had with his students.
“I really appreciated my master’s and Ph.D. students,” he said. “I have been fortunate to have many outstanding students who have had outstanding careers.”