Daniel Lee Swets

Daniel Lee Swets (MS ’91, PhD ’96, Comp Sci), age 47, of Sioux Falls, S.D., died December 9, 2011, as the result of a charter plane crash near Sioux Falls. Born September 1, 1964, in Chicago, Ill., he was the son of Kenneth and Rosemary (Engbers) Swets. He grew up and attended school in Holland, Mich., graduating from Holland Christian School in 1982. Beginning in 1983, Dan had been a computer consultant to the small business community.

Swets received his bachelor's degree in computer science from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1986. From 1986 to 1987, he was employed as a software engineer at Rockwell International, Downey, Calif., on the space shuttle orbiter backup flight system. From 1987 to 1992, he was an aerospace software engineer at Smiths Industries, Grand Rapids, working on embedded software for flight systems and ground station software. From 1990 to 1991, he was an instructor at Grand Rapids Community College and at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich. He was an Ameritech fellow at MSU from 1994-1995, while pursuing his PhD. His graduate research encompassed facial recognition software, instigating a new approach to image processing, a project that eventually led to a real-time face recognition program in use after the attacks on 9/11.

Swets was an associate professor and chair of computer science and mathematics at Augustana College in Sioux Falls for 16 years. He taught the hardware sequence for computer science majors and was responsible for many of the upper-level electives in the department, such as graphics, networks, and parallel processing. His current research interests included algorithm development for remote sensing, computer vision, content-based image retrieval, computer graphics, virtual reality, and robotics.

He also worked with the defense department and NASA on the guidance system of Marine One as well as the braking system of the space shuttle orbiter. He served as the associate director for the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium and was chair of the NASA EPSCoR Steering Committee in South Dakota.

His passion for education grew from the belief that everyone is capable of science, regardless of their education or experience. His own love of science and desire to help kids achieve and retain an interest, love, and excitement for science led him to work with South Dakota FIRST LEGO League (FLL), a robotics program for students ages 9-14 years. Swets served first as a coach for FLL, then as co-partner of the South Dakota region, and this past year, as the head of the organization. He also started the South Dakota Robotics Association, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping FLL succeed in South Dakota.

A true Renaissance man, Swets also loved music; he played in the Augustana College Community Band for six years. It was through this group that he met his wife, Robyn, in 2006 as the group traveled to Germany and Austria on a summer tour. They married in 2008.

Swets is survived by his wife, Robyn; children: Joseph, 20, Kira, 18, Megan, 14, and Benjamin, 1; his parents, Kenneth and Rosemary Swets; and siblings, Keith, Paul, Lynn, Mark, and Beth.