Winner of the John Fritz Medal, which is considered the most prestigious award in the engineering profession, John A. Swanson is one of the earliest creators of simulation software for engineers and designers. After completing his PhD work in applied mechanics, Swanson began his career working at the Westinghouse Astronuclear Laboratory in 1963. Within several years, Swanson's frustration with legacy systems caused him to leave and launch his own company, ANSYS. Swanson also served as CEO of ANSYS, an industry leader in the development of software for simulating how products would function in real life. These innovations have had massive effects through a wide range of fields, including aerospace, automotive, biomedical, manufacturing, and electronics industries. After retiring from ANSYS in 1994, Swanson shifted his attention to the training of future engineers, the study of renewable energy, and numerous philanthropic endeavors. In addition to his John Fritz Medal, Swanson is also the recipient of the Computers in Engineering Award and the Pittsburgh Entrepreneur of the Year in High Technology. An internationally recognized authority in the application of finite-element methods to engineering, Swanson was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2009.

Swanson attended Cornell University on a National Merit Scholarship, having established himself as one of the top students in his high school. Looking back, Swanson credits his mother with his early drive to succeed, emphasizing that he was raised in a household that had an "expectation of excellence." At Cornell, Swanson continued his academic studies with even more aplomb, graduating with a bachelor's and a master's in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 1962 and 1963, respectively.

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Swanson is among Cornell's foremost benefactors and has provided support in multiple ways. He has served on several advisory councils, including the Engineering College Council and the Swanson Engineering Simulation Program Advisory Board. In fact, at Cornell, the Swanson name is synonymous with philanthropy, as the former student is famous for his generous gifts to both the College of Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Over the years, these gifts have helped support a wide variety of programs, including Engineering Student Project Teams, faculty support, scholarships, and even capital projects.

More recently, Cornell decided it was time to recognize Swanson's extraordinary leadership and generosity. In light of this need, University leaders honored Swanson with the 2021 Cornell Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award. Touching on Swanson's legacy at Cornell, President Martha E. Pollack said, "John’s boundless enthusiasm for engineering education, and his exceptional generosity with his time, knowledge, and resources, has had an enduring impact here at Cornell and beyond."