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Engineer and educator: Legacy of Dr. Swami preserved in $85,000 scholarship

Dr. Steven Leftwich accepts a check for the SA Swami Memorial Scholarship

There’s a thirty year period running from the late sixties to the mid-nineties where students in WVU Tech’s civil engineering program worked alongside a rare breed of professor. His name was Dr. Shanmugam Armugam Swami – he went by S.A., or simply “Swami” – and his legacy as a dedicated educator has been honored in the form of a newly established scholarship.

Swami was a professor of civil engineering. He taught at Tech from 1968 until his retirement in 1996. The S.A. Swami Memorial Scholarship Fund was established in the name of the late professor by Swami’s wife Anusuya, who herself passed away in February. Valued at more than $85,000, the scholarship will continue Swami’s legacy of helping promising students earn a degree in civil engineering.

Dr. Govindappa Puttaiah, former chair of the WVU Tech mechanical engineering department, was a professor at WVU Tech for nearly five decades until his retirement last year. He worked alongside Swami, developing a relationship with the professor and his family that lasted decades. After Anusuya’s passing, he became executor of the Swami estate.

"In her will, she indicated that the school would establish a scholarship fund in Swami’s name. It's a yearly scholarship designated for needy but qualified students," he said.

Anasuya SwamiAnusuya Swami

On Wednesday, December 6, Puttaiah visited campus to share that gift with the department and celebrate alongside faculty, staff and students.

Dr. Steven Leftwich, chair of the civil engineering department at Tech was on hand during the presentation to accept the gift.

“This scholarship will be going to three needy students each year with a family income equal to or less than $40,000, who maintain a grade point average of 2.0 on a 4.0 scale and who pursues a bachelor of science in civil engineering,” he said.

"Swami was a very dedicated teacher and Anusuya wanted to continue his memory. In the process, she wanted to help students. College has become very expensive and she wanted to do something within her power, so she decided to help students who could really use it," said Puttaiah.

A professor to remember

Dr. Swami in 1971Dr. Swami in 1971

Everyone knew Swami and, by all accounts, he was a kind person and an effective educator. He was a health enthusiast. It was said that he never took elevators. He was known to skip rope during the day to stay fit. During his time at Tech, Swami even taught physical education seminars in the community. He also wrote three nontechnical books on everything from spirituality to fitness.

"He was a very popular teacher and he cared very much about the people around him," said Puttaiah. "I know that he would be very happy that this is happening."

Dr. Krishna Murthy taught in the civil engineering department at WVU Tech from 1977 until 2010. He worked alongside Swami during much of his tenure at the institution.

"Swami was a colleague and a dear friend.  We loved books. We would meet with our families to read from the Bhagavad Gita. We'd have meals with international students to make them feel welcome,” said Murthy. "He was a friend, philosopher and guide to me. There are no two opinions about Swami. He loved his students. He loved his job, and he knew what he was doing."

For Leftwich, Swami was more than a teacher. He was a role model, a mentor and eventually a colleague. Leftwich, a 1975 graduate of Tech, started teaching at the University in 1987. He worked alongside Swami for nearly a decade. But before that, he learned parts of his trade under Swami’s guidance.

“I had him for at least three courses as a student. Everyone liked Dr. Swami. He was a great person and very friendly. He taught transportation and highways, and he taught foundation design. The West Virginia Department of Highways alone has hired a very large number of Tech grads who all learned under Dr. Swami,” said Leftwich.

“In his book ‘Self Excellence,’ Dr. Swami shared that he came to the United States in 1964 with only eight dollars in his pocket and later started his career as a graduate student at Purdue University,” added Leftwich. “What he had accomplished with only eight dollars is a testament to Dr. Swami. He had given back so much not only to his students but also to his colleagues, the University and his community.”

After Swami retired, he and Anusuya moved back to India. Swami passed away shortly after in 1997.

Dr. Swami in 1992Dr. Swami in 1992

Puttaiah said that Swami was a devoted Hindu practitioner. As part of his faith, Swami spent his later years giving to the community.

"In that stage of life, when you have completed what you can in your profession, you begin to prepare yourself to go," said Puttaiah. "He spent his last years deeply involved in religious activities. He died while visiting a temple." 

Now, more than 20 years since his passing, Swami’s impact is still being felt at WVU Tech. For Leftwich, the scholarship is a fitting way to honor a man and a family who have given so much to the University.

“Some students are not able to start or even continue their education because of money, and that's a simple fact. Hopefully this can help make the difference for students who are deserving of a chance at an education but not able to afford it on their own. It’s something Swami would have been very proud to be a part of,” he said.

In addition to Tech's civil engineering program, Anusuya left funds to Virginia Tech's English department, where her late son Jay was a student and a faculty member, and to Valley High School in Smithers, West Virginia.

If you would like to contribute to the S. A. Swami Memorial Scholarship, find out more about establishing scholarships or set up planned giving, contact the WVU Tech Development Office at 304.929.1403.