School of Engineering Receives $41.3 Million in Support

Issue Date: 
December 10, 2007

School to be renamed the John A. Swanson School of Engineering


Acclaimed inventor, business founder, and University of Pittsburgh engineering alumnus and trustee John A. Swanson has been honored for the greatest generosity by an individual donor in Pitt’s 220-year history—$41.3 million to the University’s School of Engineering as part of the $2 billion Building Our Future Together Campaign. In recognition of this extraordinary generosity, the University will rename the school the John A. Swanson School of Engineering.

“We are exceedingly fortunate that John Swanson—who not only is recognized as one of the world’s leading engineers but also is one of our most loyal and generous supporters—has chosen to make an extraordinary investment in the future of engineering education at Pitt,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg.

“His remarkable generosity will add immeasurably to the long and distinguished record of engineering excellence at Pitt by helping us attract more of the nation’s most talented students. It also will help us to recruit some of America’s most accomplished faculty members to engage in top-echelon engineering research within state-of-the-art facilities.”

A portion of Swanson’s support will be used for the transformation of Benedum Hall, the academic home of Pitt’s School of Engineering, which will begin an extensive renovation and expansion starting in 2008. Other portions will be used to establish an endowed fund that will provide a dedicated revenue source to be used at the discretion of the school’s dean in consultation with the University’s senior administration. The uses of this fund will include faculty support, a student fund that will provide undergraduate scholarships and graduate student fellowships, discretionary funds for the Swanson Institute for Technical Excellence, and unrestricted income to help the school keep ahead of the rapid pace of change in engineering education and research.

Swanson, who earned his PhD degree at Pitt in 1966 in applied mechanics, 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 Building Our Future Together 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.

“As one of the oldest engineering schools in the nation, Pitt has a long tradition of producing great engineers and advanced research,” said Gerald Holder, the U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering at Pitt. “Thanks to John, the Swanson School of Engineering will be even better positioned to advance engineering research and education.” He added that the school has benefited greatly by a recent trend in increased giving. “With John’s support, and the increasing support of many other alumni and friends, the school has received more than $90 million in outright cash gifts over the past decade. By comparison, the prior decade saw slightly more than $18 million in total support. These resources have been invaluable in lifting our academic reputation and positioning us as a leading national engineering school.”

Swanson is recognized internationally as an authority and innovator in the application of finite-element methods to engineering. In 1970—only four years after he graduated from the Pitt School of Engineering with his PhD—Swanson founded ANSYS, Inc., a Canonsburg company that 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. He 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.

In May 2004, Swanson was given what is considered to be the highest award in the engineering profession, the American Association of Engineering Societies’ John Fritz Medal. Prior awardees of the Fritz Medal include Orville Wright, Alexander Graham Bell, Alfred Nobel, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, and George Westinghouse. In 2006, Swanson received the American Society of Mechanical Engineers President’s Award.

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.