Caryn Schenewerk ’99, senior counsel and senior director of spaceflight policy for SpaceX in Washington, D.C., was Austin College’s 2018 Todd A. Williams Executive-In-Residence lecturer on November 9. In a conversation-style presentation with Austin College President Steven P. O’Day, Schenewerk discussed “The Short Distance from Sherman to Space,” and her journey from Austin College to her job with SpaceX, the ground-breaking startup that revolutionized space technology.
When asked about her insight as to what employers want from college graduates, the alumna spoke about the high-tech work at SpaceX and the need for good written communication skills. “Employers are looking forward to hiring people with excellent writing skills. In my role, I’m not a ‘space person,’ but I translate the ideas,” Schenewerk said. “We have to distill information onto paper. If we’re reaching out to agencies about a lunar habitat or traveling to Mars, we have to be able to write on paper about how we’re going to accomplish that. Not in a text. Not in a Tweet.”
Space was not always Schenewerk’s planned career destination. She began her Austin College education with plans to pursue a career in medicine. “Peggy Redshaw (professor of biology) coached me through the realization that I did not want to be a doctor,” Schenewerk said. “I participated in Model UN where I found my happiness. Austin College kept me open to anything I wanted to be, and I wanted to talk, read, and engage.”
After completing her bachelor’s degree in English, Schenewerk completed her law degree at The University of Texas School of Law. She worked at Stewart and Stewart Law in Washington, D.C., before joining the U.S. House of Representatives as a ways and means counsel, then deputy chief of staff and policy director. She next worked in the White House as the deputy to the associate director for legislative affairs.
“While at the White House in management and budget, we worked with education, infrastructure, health care, and many other key topics. I learned to quickly get smart on a topic and go talk about it so I could be an effective advocate,” she said.
During the presentation, Schenewerk encouraged students to examine what makes them happy. For herself, she remembered her desire to get in early on an idea and have some “skin in the game.” These ideals fit perfectly at SpaceX, where she has worked in the Washington office for nearly eight years.
Schenewerk recalled the people she admires and easily lists their accomplishments: Amelia Earhart for her accomplishments in aeronautics; Gabby Giffords for her heroism as a politician and as a survivor; and Peggy Redshaw for her guidance and mentoring while at Austin College.
The Williams Executive-in-Residence Lecture was an event of Homecoming and Family Weekend. The luncheon event also recognized the Class of 2019 John D. Moseley Alumni Scholarship recipients and Rebecca Moseley Gafford ’72, who represented the family of President John D. Moseley, who served from 1953 to 1978 as president and 1978 to 1981 as chancellor. Volunteers and student participants in the Career Readiness Check program hosted by Career Services also were highlighted at the luncheon.
Austin College, a private national liberal arts college located north of Dallas in Sherman, Texas, has earned a reputation for excellence in academic preparation, international study, pre-professional foundations, leadership development, committed faculty, and hands-on, adventurous learning opportunities. One of 40 schools profiled in Loren Pope’s influential book Colleges That Change Lives, Austin College boasts a welcoming community that embraces diversity and individuality, with 46 percent of students identifying as persons of color. The residential student body of approximately 1,300 students and more than 100 expert faculty members allow a 13:1 student-faculty ratio and personalized attention. This year, the campus recognizes 100 years of co-education and has had several opportunities to recognize the history of women and accomplishments of current alumnae. Austin College is related by covenant to the Presbyterian Church (USA) and cultivates an inclusive atmosphere that supports students’ faith journeys regardless of religious tradition. Founded in 1849, the College is the oldest institution of higher education in Texas operating under original name and charter.