Longtime alumni bestow Distinguished Professorship gift

A philanthropic gift from an alumni family will be used to improve teaching and learning for current students at Washington State University.

Formal portrait of an elderly couple.
Alexander and Elizabeth Swantz

Alexander (Alex) Swantz graduated from Washington State College, now WSU, in 1941. Elizabeth (Beth) Swantz attended WSC as well.

When Alex passed away in June at the age of 101, a pledged gift from the Swantzes to WSU created the Alexander and Elizabeth Swantz Distinguished Professorship in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS).

“Dad was very dedicated to philanthropy,” said Rick Swantz, Alex and Beth’s son, and also a WSU alum. “He benefited from several scholarships that allowed him to attend WSU, and he wanted to pay back the place where he got his start.”

Impact on students

The gift will be used to help professors improve teaching and learning in the college. On a rotating four-year basis, one faculty member will be named the Swantz Distinguished Professor and will have access to funds generated by the gift.

“The distinguished faculty will use the position to generate their own payback to teaching and learning for our college,” said Rich Zack, CAHNRS Associate Dean of Academic Programs.

The selected professor can use the funds to travel to meetings or enhance a sabbatical to learn new teaching techniques or methods, Zack said.

“We’re being very liberal with what they can do with the money,” he said, “but very stringent on ensuring that it will enhance teaching throughout CAHNRS.”

For example, Zack said those applying shouldn’t simply say they want to start a new course. Rather, they should consider how their project will use specific new methods to educate students.

The person holding the position will give an annual presentation to the college to talk about what they’ve learned, and what they’re doing with the funds. A committee made up of faculty, academic advisors, and students will help choose the Swantz Professor every four years.

“It’s such an important and meaningful gift,” Zack said. “This will help come up with new ways to teach students and help CAHNRS educate the highest quality, best-trained graduates. We’re so grateful to the Swantz family for their generosity.”

Legacy of philanthropy

Rick Swantz said he is incredibly proud that this gift will keep the memory of his parents alive, while also helping future students. This isn’t the only gift his family has made to WSU.

In the 1994, Alex and Elizabeth created the Swantz FFA Endowed Scholarship at WSU. While in high school in Chehalis in the 1930s, Alex Swantz was the president of state Future Farmers of America.

“Dad grew up during the Depression on a small farm,” Rick Swantz said. “Thanks to scholarships, he was the first member of his family to go to college. Gifts to WSU, and other organizations, was his way of giving back.”

Beth Swantz, a native of Asotin, Wash., worked in real estate for many years. She passed away in 2009, when the couple lived in Clarkston, Wash.

Alex Swantz graduated with a degree in Agricultural Economics. After marrying Beth in 1941, he joined the U.S. Navy in World War II. He later earned a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota before spending over 30 years working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That included a long stint working in Spokane, as well as time spent in Washington, D.C.

“I loved living in Spokane, and it allowed us to come down for WSU football games and made me a lifelong Coug,” Rick Swantz said. “Mom and Dad were so thankful for WSU. Dad especially appreciated everything his experience there did for him, both in his career and his personal life.”