Suwat Liptapanlop

For his inspirational leadership as a transportation engineer and civil servant, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Suwat Liptapanlop.

Member of Parliament (Thailand)
[Suwat Liptapanlop, current]

On coming to America

When I came to Purdue there were 19 other Thai students, all on Thai government scholarships, destined to become civil servants. I was the only Thai student on family funds, and I felt that it was my responsibility to prove to my family that they were making a wise investment. It was my first time to travel to a western nation. My English language skills were weak, and I didn't have enough self-confidence. Therefore, I was very serious and extremely studious.

My first day in West Lafayette was frightening. I had never traveled to a Western country before, and the English I had studied didn't sound much like the way people were speaking, so I felt quite lost. I never requested residence hall accommodations, so my first task was to find a place to sleep. Dragging my heavy luggage down the street, I finally found a kind lady with a room to rent. I quickly paid the rent and settled in. Another new arrival from Thailand was not as lucky, and asked me if he could spend the night in my room. The next morning I left early and returned to find the house flooded. My landlady's papers and knickknacks were floating around the parlor. My friend had left the water running in the bathtub all day. I was asked to find a new place to live.

On memories of his student days

When I was a young boy, I watched on television as the first man stepped on the moon and I was very excited. Imagine my surprise when I entered the Aerospace Engineering Building for the first time and saw Neil Armstrong's actual uniform on display! I was thrilled, and honored to be attending the same university as such a famous man.

[Suwat Liptapanlop, then]

English is not an easy language to learn. My first class, with the eminent Professor E. J. Yoder, was frightening. When he called on me, I sat mute, with a puzzled look on my face. After two weeks of this, Dr. Yoder was certain that I was wasting my parents' money, so he asked a Thai Ph.D. student to convince me that it would be better to leave now and avoid embarrassingly low grades. Of the 20 Thai students at Purdue that year, I was the only one not on a Thai government scholarship, and I was not about to have those civil servants think they were superior to me. I convinced Dr. Yoder to wait until the first exam. When he handed back my exam paper he said, "Sorry, Suwat." I quickly looked at the paper and saw my first "A"; at Purdue.

On his career path

It was always my ambition to become a construction contractor and help my father to strengthen the family business. As a student I had no interest in or dream of politics. Occasionally, I would join my Thai classmates in a discussion of what we could do to solve the growing urban problems of Bangkok. As engineers we discussed how we could solve the environmental concerns, traffic problems and other conditions caused by the unplanned rapid growth of our capital city. We never considered any aspirations greater than working in the city administration.

After working in our family business for about ten years, my father was approached by local political party officials and asked to run for parliament. When he told my mother that he had agreed to be a candidate, she was not happy. "You are too old," she said. "Thailand needs young, energetic leaders." My father insisted, "I have already given my word. They need a candidate." My mother quickly responded, "You have five sons; pick one of them to run." That is how I became a politician. Until my district elected me as their representative to the Thai parliament, I was not very interested in politics. I very quickly moved from being an interested, but relatively passive observer of the political scene to being an active participant. It was quite a career move.

On his career highlights

When I was first elected to Parliament at the age of 33, I was very surprised when the prime minister selected me to serve as a cabinet minister. Generally these appointments are reserved for senior members of Parliament.

A few years later a military coup toppled the Chartchai government, and the new administration decided to draft a new constitution. It enlisted 20 people from throughout the country to write the new document. It was my honor to be chosen as a member of that select group.

My greatest honor has been the responsibility of serving as minister of transportation and communication in the last government. I was able to put my civil engineering training to good use in efforts to ease the traffic problems, move forward with mass transit projects, actively pursue the development of a second Bangkok airport, and propose the first master plan for telecommunication in Thailand. It was remarkable. I was actually in a position to take action on the issues I had discussed so long ago with my colleagues in West Lafayette.

Minister of Transport and Communications, Thailand. Responsible for ministry that oversees all aspects of transportation and communications in the country, including highways and railroads, air transport, marine transport, post, telegraph, and telephone, as well as meteorological services. The ministry employs 50,000 people and uses 25% of the national budget.
Selected as Knight Grand Cordon (Special Class) of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, awarded by the King.
Minister of Science, Technology and Environment, Thailand.
Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications, Thailand.
Member of

Parliament, Thailand

Formed political party
Project Manager, Prayoonvis Engineering Company, Ltd.

BSCE '77, Kasetsart University; MSCE '77, Purdue