John A. Swanson's Distinguished Career Includes Numerous Honors, Contributions

Issue Date: 
May 17, 2010

John A. Swanson, who helped revolutionize computer-aided engineering four years after graduating from Pitt, has earned substantial recognition over the past 40 years, including two of the highest honors a professional engineer can receive. Last year, he was named to the National Academy of Engineering, one of 65 new members and nine foreign associates elected in 2009 for contributions to and innovations in engineering. In May 2004, Swanson received the American Association of Engineering Societies’ John Fritz Medal, widely considered the highest award in the engineering profession. Prior awardees of the Fritz Medal include Orville Wright, Alexander Graham Bell, Alfred Nobel, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, and George Westinghouse.

Swanson was named a Pitt School of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus in 1998. He has served on Pitt’s Board of Trustees since 2006.

In December 2007, Pitt renamed its engineering school the John A. Swanson School of Engineering in recognition of the greatest generosity by an individual donor in Pitt’s history.

Swanson is recognized internationally as an authority and innovator in the application of finite-element methods to engineering. In 1970, Swanson founded ANSYS, Inc., which markets the ANSYS software code that Swanson created for use by the aerospace, automotive, biomedical, manufacturing, and electronics industries to simulate how product design will behave in real-work environments.

Swanson served ANSYS as president, chief executive officer, and director; at his retirement from ANSYS in March 1999, he was the company’s chief technologist. Headquartered in Canonsburg, Pa., with more than 40 sales locations worldwide, ANSYS and its subsidiaries today employ approximately 1,400 people and distribute products through a network of channel partners in more than 40 countries. Swanson still teaches ANSYS training classes and serves the company in an advisory capacity.

In 2002, Swanson was inducted into the Cathedral of Learning Society, which recognizes individuals who have donated $1 million or more to the University. Through his earlier investments in Pitt’s $2 billion Building Our Future Together capital campaign, Swanson created the John A. Swanson Institute for Technical Excellence, which houses the John A. Swanson Center for Micro and Nano Systems; the John A. Swanson Center for Product Innovation; and the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Center of Excellence. He also has established the John A. Swanson Embedded Computing Laboratory in Computer Engineering.

Before attending Pitt, Swanson received his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1963 and 1962, respectively. Now retired, Swanson lends his expertise to Pitt engineering students as an advisor on senior design projects.