Purvises impact MSU students, faculty

It’s been nearly four decades since W. David Purvis was learning in a Mississippi State University classroom. This spring, he reentered the classroom to take a turn voluntarily teaching students in the James Worth Bagley College of Engineering.

Purvis is truly giving of his time at his alma mater, where he graduated in 1983 with a chemical engineering degree. A licensed professional petroleum engineer, he brings expertise and knowledge of the engineering industry to students in the Dave C. Swalm School of Chemical Engineering, where he co-directs the senior design teams for the department’s petroleum engineering capstone course with Mohammad Heshmati, an assistant professor.

“This is my third year in the class, and I truly love it. The intent is to help the petroleum engineering seniors develop a sense of judgment and assessment to go along with their technical knowledge from prior classes,” Purvis said. “It is a blast to work with the students and help make them ready to enter the working world.”

The opportunity for the teaching assignment came from his involvement with the Swalm School’s Petroleum Engineering Departmental Advisory Board.

“We are pleased to have an executive and engineer of David’s caliber serving on our advisory board and impacting our student academic experience," said Bill Elmore, director of the Swalm School and holder of the Earnest W. Deavenport Endowed Chair in Chemical Engineering. "His commitment to helping students apply their skills to better understand petroleum engineering principles on real-world examples is an invaluable opportunity.”

Purvis retired from BHP Petroleum as vice president of engineering in 2019. He earlier spent 28 years in progressive roles with Shell. For his achievements and contributions to the engineering profession, Purvis has been recognized by MSU as a member of Swalm School’s Hall of Fame and among the Bagley College’s Distinguished Engineering Fellows. He also serves as an incoming member of the MSU Foundation board of directors and the Dean’s Advisory Council for the Bagley College.

“Overall, I think my degree from MSU helped me establish myself as a practical engineer who could think through problems and deliver a sensible and workable solution that was technically grounded,” Purvis said. “This served me well and led to roles with greater responsibilities and then to leadership and executive roles.”

In addition to his service and leadership roles, Purvis, along with his wife Susanne, has also been an avid financial supporter of MSU. He was fortunate to work for two companies that matched gifts to universities, which the couple used to grow their giving over time.

“Susanne and I leveraged those matches to multiply the impact of our gifts to MSU," Purvis said. “In the early years, this allowed us to fund annual scholarships and then, as time passed, to take advantage of naming opportunities across campus.”

Over the years, the Purvises have extended their support to athletics, the Bagley College’s McCain Hall renovation and Diversity Suite, the Swalm Scholars program, the costume and textiles collection, and the MSU American Institute of Chemical Engineers Support Fund. They also honored Susanne’s parents, the late Leroy H. and Catherine R. Boyd of Starkville, for their numerous accomplishments and longtime service as MSU faculty with the naming of an Old Main Academic Center classroom and support of the Dr. Leroy H. Boyd Endowed Scholarship.

“Susanne and I leveraged those matches to multiply the impact of our gifts to MSU. In the early years, this allowed us to fund annual scholarships and then, as time passed, to take advantage of naming opportunities across campus.” ~ David Purvis

Most recently, the Purvises increased their level of support for the W. David and Susanne B. Purvis Endowed Scholarship they previously created for students seeking an engineering degree at MSU.

“Scholarships were very important to me as they helped me pay my own way through Mississippi State and I was so grateful for that assistance,” said Purvis, who also served as a research assistant and freshman chemistry lab instructor as a student. “When combined with on-campus work, they helped me graduate with a low level of student debt. We wanted to be able to provide a similar opportunity for other students.”

As someone who is committed to making meaningful and lasting investments to assist future engineers and fellow members of the Bulldog family, Purvis found the perpetual support generated through an endowed gift particularly appealing.

“We established the endowed scholarship so that we could continue to fund scholarships even after the matching funds were no longer available," Purvis said. “Increasing the endowed scholarship is a way to help even more students to be able to afford the education, training and opportunities that an engineering degree from MSU can provide.”

Along with the scholarship, the Purvises wanted to impact the university in another area of need–helping to attract and retain the best candidates for instruction and research. The couple began considering various giving methods and decided a planned gift would be most efficient for their goals. As a result, they recently established the W. David and Susanne B. Purvis Distinguished Professorship in Engineering and the W. David and Susanne B. Purvis Eminent Professorship in Engineering, both of which will honor faculty members who demonstrate excellence in teaching, research and service.

“We decided that designating a portion of our IRA would be an efficient means of providing future gifts for MSU," Purvis said. "It was a matter of executing the proper paperwork to name MSU as a beneficiary and we feel we have made the most of our gift planning for us and MSU.”

Mississippi State holds special meaning for the Purvises, who married at the historic Chapel of Memories. Susanne is from Starkville, while David is from the Meridian area. The two met at an MSU chemical engineering picnic at McKee Park some 38 years ago and have been inseparable since.

After graduation and marriage, David began his career as a reservoir engineer for Shell Oil in New Orleans. It was at MSU and through internships that David found his passion for petroleum engineering as a reservoir engineer.

While the couple was living in Louisiana, Susanne earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of New Orleans. She then worked for many years as an environmental manager. She took “early retirement” as David’s career led them on several moves between New Orleans and Houston, Texas, and southeast Asia in the early 2000s.

The couple have two children: Rebecca, a licensed professional engineer who holds a doctoral degree from North Carolina State University and is a consultant in water resource management in Raleigh; and Timothy, an environmental engineering graduate student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

In the future, the family will use their home base of Louisiana to continue supporting others in their community and former career fields, as well as aspiring fellow Bulldog engineers.

“We have been truly blessed over the years and it is humbling and an honor to be able to give back to the university to give others a chance to have the same opportunities we had," Purvis said. “We love being able to help others grow, develop and succeed.”

By Addie Mayfield, Photo by Megan Bean