SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell to LMU Students and Professionals: “Don’t Take the Safe Path”

Gwynne  wi

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Be prepared, work hard and don’t be afraid to take risks; that’s what Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX, advised engineering students and young professionals gathered at Loyola Marymount University.

Shotwell, who oversees SpaceX’s day-to-day operations and manages all customer and strategic relations, was on campus on Friday, Sept. 21, for Seaver Spotlight, a speaker series hosted twice a year by LMU’s Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. The event was co-sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers and Women in Defense organizations, with the goal of bringing together students and professionals from industry, government and academia.

An overflow crowd came to the Life Sciences Building Auditorium to hear the engineer and business executive speak about her career journey and offer words of inspiration.

“You won’t have control of whether you’re the smartest person in the room or not. But you have personal control over how hard you work, and how up to speed you are, and how prepared you are, so own that. Be very well-prepared. Work really hard,” she told the audience.

“From a career perspective, I guess everybody would say ‘Have a plan, achieve your plan.’ I never had a plan,” Shotwell said. “But I do take risks.”

Taking the SpaceX job years ago seemed a bit risky, but “thank goodness” she went to work for the company, she continued: “Take risks with your career, for sure. Don’t take the safe path, because then you’ll wind up with a safe career.”

Shotwell, an Illinois native, said she became interested in engineering after she reluctantly attended a Society of Women Engineers event at the Illinois Institute of Technology – at the urging of her mother. She was 15 or 16 at the time and remembered feeling inspired by a mechanical engineer who she described as “incredibly smart, by far the best spoken” and “the best dressed.”

Shotwell set her sights on mechanical engineering and never wavered from that path. A graduate of Northwestern University, where she earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and graduate degree in applied mathematics, Shotwell worked at Chrysler Motors before joining SpaceX as Vice President of Business Development. She became the company’s President in 2008.

Under her direction, SpaceX has become a leader in rocket launch and manufacturing while revolutionizing the industry with a series of historic milestones.

Shotwell was joined on the stage by Dean Tina Choe of Seaver College, who offered opening remarks, and Claire Leon, director of LMU’s graduate program in systems engineering, who led a question-and-answer session with the audience.

This story is reprinted with permission from LMU This Week.