Gwynne Shotwell, Alumnae Award Recipient

Alumnae Award, 2015

The Alumnae Award recognizes a woman who has brought honor to Northwestern University through outstanding professional contributions in her field and who has attained national recognition. Established in 1976, the Alumnae Award has been presented every year to an alumna who has had a significant impact in her field of endeavor. Educators, journalists, doctors, scientists, and artists are included among The Alumnae’s roster of awardees.

Businesswoman, engineer, “rocket scientist,” and mentor are just some of the terms used to describe Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, a commercial space exploration company, and recipient of The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s 2015 Centennial Alumnae Award.

Ms. Shotwell received, with honors, her Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1986 and Masters of Science degree in applied mathematics in 1988, both from Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She currently serves on McCormick’s Advisory Council and spoke as McCormick’s convocation speaker in 2011. Prior to joining SpaceX, Shotwell spent more than 10 years at the Aerospace Corporation. There she held positions in Space Systems Engineering & Technology, as well as Project Management. She was promoted to the role of Chief Engineer of an MLV-class satellite program (medium launch vehicle), managed a landmark study for the Federal Aviation Administration on commercial space transportation, and completed an extensive analysis of space for NASA’s future investment in space transportation. She was subsequently recruited to be Director of Microcosm’s Space Systems Division where she served on the executive committee and directed corporate business development.

Shotwell was SpaceX’s seventh employee when she joined as Vice President of Business Development in 2002. In that position she helped develop the Falcon rocket family of vehicles, which resulted in more than 50 space launches, representing over $5 billion in revenue. Today as president and chief operating officer, Shotwell is responsible for day-to-day operations, managing over $7 billion in contracts, including multiple contracts with NASA to deliver supplies and eventually crew to and from the International Space Station.

SpaceX has grown to more than 3,500 employees, three launch sites, a rocket-development facility in Texas, and a 550,000 square foot factory with offices in Hawthorne, California. The company designs, manufactures and tests the majority of the components of its space vehicles in-house. The company is currently making final modifications to its Dragon spacecraft to ready the spacecraft for human transport, and was recently certified by the United States Air Force to launch national security payloads to space, which represents the largest market for launch services in the world. In 2014, Shotwell was appointed to the United States Export Import Bank’s Advisory Committee and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Management Advisory Council. She has been awarded the World Technology Award for individual Achievement in Space (2011), has been inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame (2012), and was elected to the honorable grade of Fellow with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In 2015, she was listed as the 90th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes magazine.

SpaceX supports science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs locally near its offices, as well as at national engineering programs and competitions. Through leadership in both corporate and external programs, Shotwell has helped raise more than $1 million for STEM education programs reaching thousands of students nationwide.