Son Honors Father’s Persistence with Endowed Scholarship

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Earning a degree in civil engineering is never easy, but when your studies are interrupted twice by war, it’s even harder. That’s exactly what happened to Lester Snyder Jr. (ENG ’55).

“My dad started at Pitt the September after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor,” said Lester’s son, Les Snyder III (ENG ’79). “He enrolled in ROTC because he believed it was the right thing to do.”

However, before the end of his first semester, he was told to report to Fort Bragg to begin active duty. After several tours, his father returned to Pitt for more classes but that, too, was interrupted. This time by the Korean War.

“I began thinking about honoring my father and helping the most students that I could.”

“He finally got out of the Army in December 1952, immediately came back to the University of Pittsburgh, and graduated with a civil engineering degree in 1955,” said Les III. “So 13 ‘short’ years after he began, he graduated. It was a great testament of persistence.”

The son followed in his father’s footsteps and also earned an engineering degree from Pitt in 1979. He went on to have a successful career as a civil engineer and business owner, and has now endowed a scholarship in his father’s name.

“I began thinking about honoring my father and helping the most students that I could,” said Les III.

The answer was the Lester C. Snyder, Jr. Scholarship in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which is given to Swanson School of Engineering students with a history of military service.

“At first, dad was so shocked he didn’t understand what we were doing,” said the younger civil engineer with a proud smile on his face. “After we sat him down and really explained that this scholarship is in honor of the persistence that he exemplified getting through the military and then finishing in civil engineering, and then going on and having a very successful career, he was very taken aback and very honored.”

David Matelan
David Matelan (left) with President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama while serving as a Marine assigned to a presidential security detail in Dublin, Ireland.

Among the four recipients of the scholarship is David Matelan. The 28-year-old civil engineering senior served five years in the Marines before enrolling at Pitt. He says the scholarship is extremely helpful.

“Majoring in engineering is expensive and the funding I get from the G.I. Bill to cover the cost of books is never enough,” David said. 

Last summer David had an internship with Les Snyder III’s company, Infrastructure and Industrial Constructors USA (I+Icon), which he says helped him solidify his desire to make a career as a civil engineer in the construction industry.

Les III and his 93-year-old father, Lester Jr., meet each year with the current Snyder Scholarship students for lunch. “One thing I like about endowing a scholarship fund is staying active with the recipients. I enjoy seeing them and hearing their stories and what they have learned and so forth," Les III said.