Trustee, Alumnus Swanson Elected to National Academy of Engineering

Issue Date: 
February 16, 2009
20071205_umc_swanson_029.jpgJohn A. Swanson

Acclaimed inventor, business founder, and University of Pittsburgh engineering alumnus and trustee John A. Swanson has been named to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), among the highest professional distinctions an engineer can receive. He was one of 65 new members and nine foreign associates elected to the academy Feb. 6 for contributions to and innovations in engineering.

“The election of distinguished Pitt alumnus and University trustee John Swanson to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering is a telling tribute to one of history’s great engineers,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Dr. Swanson founded ANSYS, Inc., nearly four decades ago, and just four years after earning his PhD from Pitt’s engineering school that now proudly bears his name. It might fairly be said that Dr. Swanson, who also is the single-most generous individual supporter of Pitt in its 222-year history, helped bring the ‘high tech’ economy to Southwestern Pennsylvania long before the term had been coined. We have enormous respect for and are deeply grateful to Dr. Swanson, and today we join him in celebrating yet another premier professional distinction.”

The academy recognized Swanson for his development of the ANSYS program, a general-purpose, finite-element software code used in engineering design worldwide to predict how product designs will behave in manufacturing and real-work environments. The program is used in various fields employing computer-aided engineering, including the aerospace, automotive, biomedical, manufacturing, and electronics industries. To market the program, Swanson founded ANSYS, Inc., in 1970, with headquarters in Canonsburg, Pa. The company—which designs, develops, markets, and globally supports engineering simulation technology—now has 1,400 employees and distributes products through a network of business partners in more than 40 countries. Swanson served as the company’s president, chief executive officer, and director until his retirement in March 1999. He still teaches ANSYS training classes and serves the company as an advisor.

“John Swanson is truly one of the great engineers of all time,” said Gerald D. Holder, the U.S. Steel Dean of Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, which was named after Swanson in 2007. “His leadership and expertise in writing some of the most complex and sophisticated code ever developed resulted in creating one of the leading engineering software firms in the world. We at the Swanson School are truly honored to have our school named after this extraordinary professional.”

Among other prestigious awards, Swanson received the 2004 John Fritz Medal from the American Association of Engineering Societies, which is considered the highest and most prestigious award in the engineering profession. Presented since 1902, prior awardees of the Fritz Medal include Orville Wright, Alexander Graham Bell, Alfred Nobel, Thomas Edison, and George Westinghouse. He also was awarded the 2006 President’s Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Swanson has had a long relationship with Pitt. He was elected to the University’s Board of Trustees in 2006 and, in 2002, inducted into the Cathedral of Learning Society, which recognizes individuals who have donated $1 million or more to the University. In 1998, he received the School of Engineering’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

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 University’s School of Engineering as part of the $2 billion Building Our Future Together Campaign. Swanson’s gifts to Pitt have helped create 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.

Swanson received his PhD in applied mechanics from Pitt in 1966. He received his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1963 and 1962, respectively.

With his election, Swanson joins three Pitt professors who also are members of the National Academy of Engineering: Bernard Cohen, emeritus professor of physics and astronomy, elected in 2003; Thomas Saaty, University Professor of Business Administration, elected in 2005; and Savio Woo, University Professor of Bioengineering, elected in 1994.