When John A. Swanson ’61, M.Eng. ’63, launched his own company, Swanson Analysis Systems Inc., in 1970, he hoped it would give him the opportunity to work with a handful of employees who shared his enthusiasm for software.
He did not know it would grow into what is now known as ANSYS Inc., a global leader in developing engineering simulation and technologies used by engineers and designers across a broad spectrum of industries.
“Don’t try to predict life,” Swanson told an in-person and virtual audience from a stage in Duffield Hall on Oct. 14.
Swanson, a known innovator in the application of finite-element methods of engineering, was honored with the 2021 Cornell Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of his extraordinary leadership and vision, and the distinction he has brought to the college.
“John’s boundless enthusiasm for engineering education, and his exceptional generosity with his time, knowledge and resources, have had an enduring impact here at Cornell and beyond,” said President Martha E. Pollack, who highlighted the breadth of areas that Swanson and his wife, Janet, have supported at Cornell and elsewhere.
Among the university’s foremost benefactors, the Swansons have given generously to the College of Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine, with gifts to programs – including the Swanson Laboratory for Advanced Simulation – as well as faculty support, scholarships and capital projects. He has also served on multiple advisory councils, including the Engineering College Council.
In a lively, in-person discussion with Lynden Archer, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering, Swanson touched on his small-town upbringing, his success in business, his recent focus on renewable energy and his long-standing commitment to philanthropy.
“My opinion is that engineering is the world’s greatest career,” Swanson said.
Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2009, Swanson received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering from Cornell, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, where the Swanson School of Engineering is named in recognition of his involvement and support. He began his career in 1963 at Westinghouse Astronuclear Laboratory.
After serving as president and CEO of ANSYS, Swanson sold the company in 1994. More recently, he has shifted his attention to renewable energy, including solar and biodiesel enterprises. He is a developer of Green Key Villages in Lady Lake, Florida, the only “net zero energy” home development in the area.
Swanson is a recipient of the American Association of Engineering Societies John Fritz Medal, the Computers in Engineering Award and the Pittsburgh Entrepreneur of the Year in High Technology, among other awards.
Swanson met with many students, including members of the Engineering Student Project Teams, during his visit to campus.
“His enthusiasm and his passion for engineering education shone through so brightly in those interactions,” said Lauren Stulgis, director of student project teams at the College of Engineering. “He and the students could have spent hours more in the lab.”
During his conversation with Archer, Swanson repeatedly encouraged the students in the audience to know their worth.
“You are valuable,” he said. “I don’t think, at the age we start, we realize how valuable we are.”
That message resonated with Akugbe Imudia ’22, who studies electrical engineering.
“He’s really the engineer’s engineer,” Imudia said. “He gave me great perspective on how important I can be as an engineer, and how I can use that potential to go out and make a difference.”
Reeve Hamilton is director of communications for the College of Engineering.