Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

A lecturer at Clemson lives in the same house he lived in as a doctoral candidate. But his thrifty spending habits have put him on track to donate $2 million to create a scholarship fund.

December 8, 2017
 
Todd Schweisinger is a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at Clemson University.

Todd Schweisinger wasn’t anywhere near millionaire status when he was working for $4 an hour at a roller rink at the age of 10. But neither were Dr. Dre, Ice Cube or the other members of the 1980s hip-hop group NWA.

Schweisinger worked at Skateland USA, the iconic skate rink founded in Compton, Calif., in 1984 (and featured in the 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton), that also acted as a concert venue, helping launch the careers of up-and-coming '80s hip-hop groups.

Now, though, it’s Schweisinger’s turn.

The 42-year-old professor doesn’t have the trappings of a one-percenter: he lives in the same $60,000 house he purchased when he was a doctoral candidate at Clemson University, where he is now a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering, and his minivan didn’t have air-conditioning until last year, when he finally caved and spent the money needed to keep him cool during South Carolina’s wicked summers. But that frugality is what has helped put him on the path to pledge 95 percent of his estate to Clemson, a sum he’s hoping will reach $2 million.

“My father instilled in me a hard work ethic,” Schweisinger said. “I’ve worked really hard for my money, and I thought about, ‘Who is going to be the best steward for my money when I’m gone that will share my vision and passion?’”

Through holding a tight budget, working with a financial planner and plans to make investments in real estate, Schweisinger is planning to set up an endowed scholarship fund that can -- when entrusted and invested with the Clemson University Foundation -- last in perpetuity to fund full-ride scholarships, with preference for students from South Carolina.

“I made a lot of friends at Clemson,” said Schweisinger, who earned his master’s degree and Ph.D., both in mechanical engineering, from the institution. “And when they graduated, a lot of them moved into new houses, updated the car that they had been driving for something newer, or got married and had big weddings.”

Schweisinger, on the other hand, kept living “like a graduate student,” opting to keep the house he was already in. He drives 1988 minivan and a 1982 pickup.

He first approached the university’s fund-raising office in 2008 to begin talks about the future of his estate, but his outlook on spending had been shaped years before.

“When I was in elementary school, I’m sure I wanted fancy cars, a big house and all kinds of things,” he said. His parents were always supportive of him working and spending his money on whatever he wanted as a teenager, but the video games and other items that captured his adolescent attention would soon be dated and cease to interest him.

“So at some point in time, I just thought, gosh … maybe the big house, the car, the other fancy things I wanted, isn’t really what makes me happy,” he said.

Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, said he was caught by surprise when he heard about Schweisinger’s donation.

“To give back so overwhelmingly, you have to believe in what you’re doing. You have to believe in your students, you have to believe in what they can achieve,” he said, adding that the donation reaffirmed his “faith in the goodness of people.”

A scholarship endowment carries personal significance for Schweisinger, who is unmarried and without children. As a Ph.D. student, he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes, and the medical costs associated with it forced him to take out student loans.

“I’m grateful for what I have, specifically my degree. When I completed that degree, I felt like I had accomplished everything I’d set out for, so I didn’t feel like I … [needed] much else to feel complete, other than to put some food on the table,” he said.

He started giving back immediately in the form of teaching, which he considers a form of public service. He also volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The $2 million endowment, though, is a guarantee that he can keep giving back after he’s gone.

“Being in higher education is a very personally rewarding career,” he said. “And I enjoy putting students first.”

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