SpaceX president returns to campus for 2015 Alumnae Award


Darby Hopper/The Daily Northwestern

President Morton Schapiro and other administrators stand with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, the recipient of an annual award from the Alumnae of Northwestern University. Shotwell has worked at SpaceX, a private space exploration company, since 2002.

Darby Hopper, Reporter

Gwynne Shotwell (McCormick ’86, ’88) cites Queen Elizabeth as her hero and Margaret George, writer of historical fiction, as her favorite author. As the president of a company that looks to the future, sometimes it can be fun to go back in time.

Shotwell received the 2015 Alumnae Award on Thursday from the Alumnae of Northwestern University, a volunteer group that has given an annual award to an alumna who has made significant contributions to her field since 1976.

“What I love about Gwynne Shotwell is that she doesn’t wait,” University President Morton Schapiro said at the ceremony. “She was always ready for it, and she always noticed when an opportunity presented itself. And she didn’t sit around.”

Shotwell, featured on Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women list, is the president and COO of SpaceX, a company dedicated to rocket science technology.

“Wouldn’t it be a shame if our knowledge and what we have as a species to offer was just here, on Earth?” Shotwell said on stage.

Shotwell said in recent years, particularly with the influence of McCormick Dean Julio Ottino, NU found its way back into her life. She spoke at the McCormick School of Engineering’s convocation in 2011 and serves on the school’s advisory council.

Shotwell worked at the Aerospace Corporation for 10 years before signing on at SpaceX in 2002, moving up to her current role in 2008. Shotwell cites NU’s environment as one of the things that has allowed her to find success at SpaceX.

“One of the reasons why I came to Northwestern was because it has a great journalism school, a great theatre program and that the College of Arts and Sciences was well-renowned,” Shotwell said. “I didn’t just want an engineering school. The most successful people, regardless of the field that they’re in, have a broad perspective on things.”

Ottino spoke about how he remembered Shotwell for taking classes in the arts.

“She’s exactly the type of engineer that we like to say came from Northwestern,” Ottino said at the ceremony. “She was the whole brain engineer, whole brain thinker, before we coined the term.”

Although she said the difficulties women engineers can face are real, Shotwell credits her mindset of not seeing herself as different in propelling her career forward.

“It’s powerful if you think of yourself as a part of a team that’s doing great things instead of saying, ‘Oh, I’m the only girl on my team,’” Shotwell told The Daily. “As I mature in my career, you continue to see how important it is to make sure you foster relationships that help young women moving into the career field.”

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