Swimming to the top, Auburn Engineering alumnus sets example for the future

By Lauren Winton

Published: Apr 21, 2021 10:00:00 AM

Susan and Gary Schatz Susan and Gary Schatz

An engineering education takes dedication. Hard work. Perseverance. But for one alumnus, pursuing a degree in civil engineering was just one part of a highly awarded Auburn experience.

Gary Schatz, ’78 civil engineering, didn’t hold back when it came to challenges. He matriculated into the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering with a full athletic scholarship. His sport of choice: swimming.

“Auburn was an attractive choice for my education because they offered me a scholarship to swim, and I knew the engineering school was excellent,” Gary said. “It was a rigorous educational experience.”

Gary was one of only a handful of engineers on the swim team. As an athlete, his time was spent training, studying and training some more.

“When I look back on my time at Auburn, I really don’t know how I did it,” Gary said.

Susan, Gary’s wife, doesn’t know how he did it either.

“Gary and I met in the fall of 1976, and he was training for about 22 hours a week and doing his engineering coursework on top of that,” Susan said.

Not only did Gary swim for Auburn, he excelled at swimming for Auburn. He was a 13-time NCAA All-American, an American record holder in the 400 medley relay, co-captain of the swim team, an Auburn swimming record-holder and the first Auburn swimmer to break the 20-second barrier in the 50-yard freestyle.

On top of this, Gary kept up his engineering coursework, was a member of Delta Tau Delta, ODK and CE fraternities and was the first non-football or basketball player to receive Auburn’s Cliff Hare Award in 1977. The award annually recognizes an Auburn senior for their academic and athletic success. It also recognizes those who demonstrate outstanding leadership, integrity and courage.

“It really was incredible, what he did,” Susan said.

After graduation, Gary joined ExxonMobil. Ever balancing swimming and engineering, he took a leave of absence from ExxonMobil for one year in 1979 after competing in the FINA World Cup in Tokyo. He was headed to Los Angeles to make a bid at the Moscow Olympics. He placed, and went on to compete for the USA against other 1980 Olympic Boycotting Countries in Hawaii.

While his accomplishments in swimming were many, even landing him in the 2001 Auburn Swimming Wall of Fame, his engineering accomplishments underscored a lifetime career. Gary retired from ExxonMobil in 2017 after a 39-year career in engineering. It was a career that allowed Gary and Susan to travel the world while he worked in Russia and South Korea.

“Engineering was tough; it teaches you how to think. It sets you up for success in your career,” Gary said. “I am so thankful for my Auburn Engineering education.”

Susan graduated in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in interior design and furnishings, following her father and two uncles who were all Auburn electrical engineering graduates.

To give back to Auburn, Susan and Gary established the Gary L. and Susan Nelson Schatz Endowed Scholarship in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. It is their hope this scholarship helps future engineering students achieve their goals, whether it is to swim the fastest relay or engineer a prosperous career.

Media Contact: Lauren Winton, lmw0090@auburn.edu, 334.844.5519

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