Mines News

Release Date Thursday, October 7, 2021

Mines Receives Largest Gift in University History, Naming Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering in Honor of Alumna Karen M. Swindler

Karen M. Swindler is the new endowed namesake for the chemical biological engineering department at South Dakota Mines.

South Dakota Mines’ chemical and biological engineering department has been renamed the Karen M. Swindler Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering after the Mines alumna who passed away in 2018. This is the first time in the United States that a university chemical and biological engineering department has been named after a woman. The Swindler family has also made the largest gift in university history, a $4 million donation, in memory of Karen.

“This is a gift that will make a direct impact on our students for generations to come,” says Mines President Jim Rankin, Ph.D. “Karen was an instrumental leader who was a passionate supporter of her alma mater. This endowment extends her legacy in perpetuity. We are deeply grateful for the generosity of her family.”

Swindler graduated from Mines in 1988 with a degree in chemical engineering. She went on to build an illustrious career that included more than 25 years of leadership in the chemical engineering industry. She began her career at Exxon working with the Isoamylene and Linear Paraffins Units. She received three improvement awards for 55% chemical cost reductions and improving performance in the utilities area at Exxon. In 1993, Swindler transferred to LyondellBasell, the third largest independent chemical company in the world, as an olefins production engineer in Clinton, Iowa. She excelled quickly, serving as olefins production superintendent, manager, and plant manager. She was promoted to director of global operations planning and scheduling; vice president of health, safety, and operational excellence; general manager of manufacturing; and divisional vice president of polymers manufacturing, North America; and included service as senior vice president of manufacturing, Americas. She was one of the only women in charge of manufacturing for an S&P Fortune 500 company. She credited her education at Mines for giving her a practical skillset enabling her success in life.

“Her passion and enthusiasm were just phenomenal. In my 40 years in industry and academia, I can say that her combination of charisma, integrity, ethics, honesty, philanthropy, and work ethic was a real rarity,” says Robb Winter, Ph.D., professor and former department head of chemical and biological engineering at Mines.

“This gift embodies what Karen valued most as a leader and visionary, which is opportunity, development, and innovation for students, chemical engineering, and the university,” says Kenneth Benjamin, Ph.D., interim department head of chemical and biological engineering at Mines.

Swindler gave back to the university through volunteering: recruiting students; presenting to university classes and organizations, including as keynote speaker at the regional AIChE conference; serving on the Chemical Engineering Advisory Board; and serving on the Alumni Association Board of Directors including a term as president from September 2017 until she passed away in July 2018. South Dakota Mines awarded Swindler a posthumous honorary doctorate in winter 2018. The generous gift made by Lee Swindler and his family honors her memory and contributions to the field of chemical engineering and South Dakota Mines.

“Karen was a trailblazer, juggling an extremely successful career, all the while making time for her family,” says Greg Hintgen, past Mines alumni president and a family friend.  “She had such a passion for connecting and helping people and she acted as a mentor for many students, recent graduates and alumni, helping them with career advice and often making connections with others in the industry. I’m so glad to see her being recognized in this way.”

Lee Swindler, Karen’s spouse, will speak on campus at the Oct. 7, 2021, naming ceremony on behalf of the Swindler family. Lee is a retired engineer with 30 years of experience in improving the automation of industrial facilities. He grew up on a family farm in North Dakota and received his electrical engineering degree from South Dakota Mines in the spring of 1988. Lee worked for Amoco and LyondellBasell chemical companies on the manufacturing side and then for ENGlobal and Maverick Technologies on the engineering services side before retiring in 2020. He worked in a variety of positions, including plant engineer, project manager, maintenance manager, corporate automation manager, and program manager. Lee and Karen have four children and six grandchildren. Lee splits his time between homes in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Oceanside, Oregon.

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About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,418 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 97 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $66,150. For these reasons College Factual ranks South Dakota Mines, the #1 Engineering School for Return on Investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-721-7865, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu