A longtime love of Purdue, and the desire to give back, led alumnus and digital power protection pioneer Dr. Edmund O. Schweitzer III and his wife, Beatriz, to advance the educational and physical landscape at Purdue.
The couple recently made a $3 million gift to the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering to endow a professorship and name the school’s power and energy systems area, boosting the profile of research and education in power engineering at Purdue.
In addition, the company Schweitzer founded, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL), will build a 100,000-square-foot facility in Purdue's Discovery Park District, supporting electric power research, engineering services and light manufacturing.
“I love Purdue, with its focus on providing a world-class education,” he says. “I come back time and time again to the things I learned there, the professors who taught me, and even the books I learned from. Purdue now, like then, keeps both its feet on the ground and helps young people from all walks of life, from around the world, make the best of themselves.”
Raised in Northbrook, Illinois, Schweitzer earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from Purdue in 1968 and 1971. Working on his PhD at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, he developed a novel digital relay as his doctoral thesis. He continued to explore the idea while serving on the electrical engineering faculty at WSU and Ohio University.
In the early 1980s, he left academia and started SEL from his Pullman home. The company manufactured the world’s first all-digital protective relay — revolutionizing the protection industry. Today, SEL is a leading designer and manufacturer of digital relays for the protection, monitoring, automation and control of electric power systems. At its Pullman headquarters and at multiple national and international locations, the company employs more than 5,300 people.
Gifts That Transform Our World
The generosity of Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer is set to change the intellectual, physical and economic landscape of Purdue University, the Greater Lafayette community — and the region.
In April 2018, Schweitzer’s company, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) announced plans to build a 100,000-square-foot electric power research facility in the Purdue Discovery Park District designed to support up to 300 new high-tech jobs.
In addition, the Schweitzers have provided $1.5 million to the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering for an endowed professorship. Steve Pekarek, the inaugural Edmund O. Schweitzer III Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is a leader in power and energy research at Purdue.
Another $1.5 million in endowed funds from the Schweitzers names ECE’s power and energy systems research area as “Schweitzer Power and Energy Systems” and supports faculty members Dionysios Aliprantis, Scott D. Sudhoff and Oleg Wasynczuk. The team, which includes Pekarek, will foster R&D in the field — in collaboration with SEL Purdue and students in their laboratories.
“This is an exceptional example of a donor investing in our College and our community, and the first at this scale,” says Alyssa Wilcox, senior associate vice president for advancement at Purdue. “It is historic and remarkable. We’re grateful that Ed and Bea have such confidence in Purdue, Purdue Engineering, and in our city and state.”
SEL Purdue, a giant leap for West Lafayette
The new facility — called SEL Purdue — will conduct electric power research and development and provide a significant economic boost to the Greater Lafayette area. And as Purdue enters into its 150th anniversary year, Schweitzer is a modern example of a successful alum leaving a mark on the world.
The space is designed for as many as 300 employees. Construction of SEL Purdue is underway on 10 acres of a 20-acre plot on the northwest corner of U.S. 231 and Newman Road, north of the Purdue Technology Center Aerospace building, also known as the Rolls-Royce facility.
“This is the breakthrough we’ve hoped for with the Discovery Park District,” Purdue President Mitch Daniels says. “High-quality jobs and internships for our students, new home buyers and customers for the residential and retail components. I see Greater Lafayette becoming a major high-tech engine for Indiana and a high-tech center for the entire country.”
The $1 billion Discovery Park District is the cornerstone of a 30-year plan to transform the west side of the Purdue campus. The project, whose investing partners are Purdue Research Foundation and Browning Investments LLC, is deeply tied to the University and its 150-year history of innovating — and changing the world for the better.
An ‘Incalculable’ value to ECE
The Schweitzers’ gift also gives a tremendous boost to the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Students and faculty will benefit from the endowed professorship, the expansion of the school’s power and energy research and the tangible connection to a local leader in electric power systems.
“The gift to ECE from Ed and Beatriz is influential on its own, but combined with the SEL investments in research and the local economy, the total value of their commitment to the University and our area is incalculable,” says Venkataramanan (Ragu) Balakrishnan, the former Michael and Katherine Birck Head and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Steven Pekarek, recently named the Edmund O. Schweitzer III Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says he and his fellow power and energy faculty are extremely thankful for the Schweitzers’ generosity. “It comes at a great time. We have very strong faculty in our area, and this gift enables us to support our students and our laboratories so we can maintain our top-quality program.”
Pekarek is a leader in the fields of electromagnetic component modeling and design, electric machine design and power electronics. His research in power and energy has led to advances in vehicle charging systems, ship and aircraft electrical architectures, and the control of DC microgrids.
As well as manufacturing and office space, SEL Purdue will include an area dedicated to collaborations between SEL and the University. “That is the idea,” Pekarek says. “This kicks off a long-term growth plan for a fruitful collaboration. We are thankful, and it is a pleasure to work with Ed Schweitzer. As a faculty member, I enjoy speaking with Ed; he appreciates our work and can discuss it in technical detail.”
Education and partnerships
The Schweitzers consider education a vital issue and believe Purdue played a key role in Ed’s life and career.
“My dad taught me an important lesson when I was quite young,” says Schweitzer, whose grandfather, the first Edmund Schweitzer, earned his electrical engineering degree from Purdue in 1898. “Somebody can take away your money and your freedom, but nobody can ever take away what you’ve learned and know.”
Schweitzer looks forward to working with students through SEL’s internship program and hiring them after they graduate.
“We love to provide opportunities for students to work alongside our employees and to learn to solve real-world challenges,” he says. “We say that if you have a tough problem, give it to an intern. They don’t realize it’s a tough problem and will solve it!”
Schweitzer also is eager to partner on research with Purdue faculty. “When individuals, industries and universities collaborate, there are connections of great value in all directions. How else do universities know what’s happening in industry, and industry know what’s going on in academia?” he says. “The opportunities to come up with solutions to benefit humanity are tremendous.”
“I’m eternally grateful for Purdue’s dedication to students and for the education I received there,” Schweitzer adds. “This gift is an opportunity for Beatriz and me not only to say thank you but also to recognize Purdue’s excellence in education.”
Banner Photo Caption
Edmund and Beatriz Schweitzer on the future site of SEL Purdue.
Investments in Infrastructure
Expansions and improvements to teaching and learning spaces, laboratories, offices
Elevating Student Experience
Scholarships, student opportunities, diversity programs, student clubs
Dedicated to the Cause
Fundraising, event hosting, activity planning, advisory boards, networking with alumni
Laboratory infrastructure and equipment, project startup funds, graduate student support
Administrative funds, student travel and networking, unexpected opportunities
Rewarding, retaining, recruiting faculty and promoting diversity in engineering