“You never know where your career from MSOE might take you.”

MSOE helped prepare Lt. Colonel Catherine Olszewski ’08 to travel the world – from training grounds across the United States to battlegrounds overseas, risking her life to save the lives of fellow U.S. servicemembers and civilians. 

Olszewski grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an early love for math and science, naturally gravitated towards pursuing a career in engineering. On her first visit to MSOE’s campus, it became clear it was her top choice. The electrical engineering major quickly became a star on the Raiders’ basketball court. “When I first came to MSOE, we didn’t have the Kern Center – so all our women’s basketball games were held in an arena downtown. It was cool, but gaining the Kern Center where we could play on campus and watch hockey games was even better.”

During her time at MSOE, Olszewski was also part of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program which helped support her education and prepared her for a career after MSOE.

After graduation, Olszewski moved to Albuquerque and was sent to train on the DA20 for her first stint of flying training. She spent the next six months in air force training, flying the T-6A in Del Rio, Texas. After seven months of training with the US Navy on multi-engine turbo prop planes, she received an assignment in February 2010 to go to the HC-130P aircraft. She then spent five and a half months in basic C-130 training in Little Rock, Arkansas, followed by five and a half months of HC-130P mission qualification training in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She reported for her first flying assignment in January 2011 at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. Later that year, she was deployed to Afghanistan.

“In Afghanistan we did almost solely medical evacuations for injured soldiers from every service and country that was there. We also did medical evacuations of Afghan children and civilians. I’m particularly proud of one mission where we were able to help an injured Afghan child and his father and safely evacuate them to a base so they’d be able to receive a higher level of medical care.”

When she returned to the States, Olszewski went back to school at Little Rock and Kirtland Air Force bases to learn how to fly a HC-130J, a tactical cargo aircraft used for recovery missions and refueling other military aircrafts and helicopters.

She then moved to a base in Tucson, Arizona for three years and after two more deployments moved to Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. She was deployed for a final time before moving to California to attend Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. Upon graduating, she got her formal assignment to Eglin Air Force Base located on the panhandle of Florida where she resides with her wife and daughter.

“I’m so proud of the work I’ve been doing as a C-130 test pilot. My squadron works extremely hard to ensure we are safely testing the right equipment for all the different variants of C-130 to ensure the people deployed everyday have the right tools to accomplish their mission and come home safe,” she said.

Olszewski was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in February 2023. “It can be very competitive to be promoted in the military. It was extremely rewarding to receive this honor and I couldn’t be happier to take command of my own squadron. I’m so passionate and proud of the amazing work they do every day.”

Throughout all her trainings and military assignments, she credits lessons learned at MSOE for helping her career take flight.

“There have been several times in my career where just putting the nose to the grindstone was necessary and other times where it was important to step back and look at the big picture. MSOE helped me learn to tell the difference between the two.”

No matter how much Olszewski’s career has soared since leaving campus, the mother with one more baby due this year had one last piece of advice for MSOE grads, which she credits for keeping her the most grounded.

“Keep a good work life balance and value the time you spend with your family. When everything else is said and done, they are the ones who will always be there when you land.”

Olszewski spoke at the 2023 Spring Commencement morning ceremony. Read more about her accolades.