Pitt Alumnus and Trustee John A. Swanson is Pitt's 2010 Commencement Speaker

Issue Date: 
April 12, 2010

University of Pittsburgh engineering alumnus and trustee John A. Swanson will be the featured speaker for Pitt’s 2010 Commencement on May 2.

Swanson, who helped revolutionize computer-aided engineering a mere four years after receiving his PhD degree in applied mechanics in 1966, can serve as an inspiring example for the newest class of Pitt graduates preparing to transform their education into successful and important careers.

“The outstanding accomplishments, deep commitments, and extraordinary generosity of John Swanson are legendary,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “An acclaimed inventor, trailblazing business executive, renowned engineer, and the single most generous individual supporter of Pitt in the 223-year history of our University, Swanson is greatly admired at Pitt and in places far beyond. It will be both a singular privilege and a real pleasure to introduce him as our University’s 2010 commencement speaker.”

During the past 40 years, Swanson has earned substantial recognition, 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 has received many other prestigious honors throughout his career, among them being named in 1986-87 Pittsburgh Engineer of the Year by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), winning in 1990 the Computers in Engineering award for outstanding contributions to the engineering and computing industries, selection by Industry Week as one of the Top 5 of the Top 50 R&D Stars in the United States in 1994, election as an ASME Fellow in 1994, and receipt of the ASME Applied Mechanics Award in 1998 and ASME Honorary Membership in 2003. In 2006, Swanson received the ASME President’s Award.

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

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—$41.3 million donated by Swanson to the Building Our Future Together campaign.

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.

Prior to founding ANSYS, Swanson was employed at Westinghouse Astronuclear Laboratory in the stress analysis group in reactor design, the core analysis and methods group, and the structural analysis group. It was at Westinghouse that Swanson realized the significant resources companies could save by using integrated general-purpose finite-element software code to do the complex calculations engineers were then doing manually.

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.