Col Carolyn Benyshek leads USAF Academy selections
Although it took her two tries to get in,
this accomplished alum and technical professional
now directs admissions at the U.S. Air Force Academy
Colonel Carolyn Benyshek is the director of admissions at the U.S. Air Force Academy (Colorado Springs, CO). Appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate in 2010, she leads a permanent staff of sixty people and nearly 1,600 Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and active duty Air Force officers and retirees.
"Where you're from is relative when you grow up in a military family," Benyshek says with a smile. Her African American father, who was enlisted in the Air Force, met her Japanese mother when he was stationed in Japan. Born in Japan, Benyshek lived in Germany before her father retired in 1976 and settled their family in Colorado when she was in her early teens.
Aiming for the AF Academy
She excelled in math and science in high school and graduated with a 3.9 GPA. "High school came easily for me, but standardized tests did not," she remembers.
"I was always interested in chemistry and chemical engineering," she says. She applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy, but was not accepted because of her test performance. Instead, she received an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School, also in Colorado Springs.
"The prep school is geared toward kids who have the makings of good cadets and good officers," Benyshek explains. She went through the prep school, and was accepted at the academy.
In 1987, she earned her BS in general engineering. It was only the seventh year that any military service academy had graduated women. "In my class, only about ten percent were women, but I didn't think that much about it. I didn't know enough to be apprehensive. I only knew that I didn't want to let people down, especially my father."
Well prepared for a career
After graduation, she completed undergraduate space training (UST) at Lowry AFB (Denver, CO) in 1988. "The Air Force Academy's curriculum set me up very favorably for what I did in UST," Benyshek says enthusiastically. "The astronautical portion of the program, like orbitology, was what I had just learned."
In 1994, she attended Squadron Officer School (SOS) at Maxwell AFB (Montgomery, AL). Benyshek earned an MBA from the University of Phoenix in 1996. She has two additional masters degrees: in military operational art and science from the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell in 2000; and in national resource strategy from the National Defense University's Industrial College of the Armed Forces (ICAF, Fort Lesley McNair, Washington, DC) in 2008.
Her work early in her Air Force career was more technically oriented than her current role. Nearly all the technical jobs Benyshek has held are classified. One area she can discuss is the work she did from 2003 to 2005 with global positioning systems (GPS) while serving as the director of operations for the Second Space Operations Squadron (Schriever AFB, Colorado Springs, CO). "I directed 120 young airmen who flew satellites, keeping them healthy so they could bring down the data necessary for positioning, navigation and timing."
In 2008 she finished her degree at ICAF, and then headed to the Pentagon to become director of the office of the assistant secretary of defense for network information and integration. "I learned a lot about the space business. I saw how decisions are made, budgets are prepared, and programs are funded. I had government civilian experts and military experts working for me, and we were all subject-matter experts in our own areas. It was incredibly enlightening."
It was a fabulous assignment tempered only by the fact that her family was back in Colorado. "But I have a very understanding family," she says. "I almost retired before I attended ICAF but we had a big family meeting and everybody encouraged me to continue to pursue what I enjoy doing."
But by 2009, Benyshek had the feeling that she was missing too much by living so far away. She set a day to file her retirement application online, but got busy and forgot. When she got home that day, there was a call waiting for her from General Michael Gould, who wanted to interview her for the position of director of admissions for the Air Force Academy. "If I had applied for retirement that day, none of this would have happened. I think it was divine intervention," she says.
"It's been great coming back here to the Air Force Academy," she reports. "The faces have changed but a lot of the institution has stayed the same and that's a positive thing. In admissions we have marketing, recruiting, mentoring, and an IT shop. I oversee the whole admissions machine."
USAFA's application process is stringent, but the graduation rate is high. "We get about 12,000 applications a year," Benyshek explains. "Of these, just over 1,100 are accepted and about 900 graduate."
Colonel Benyshek has good things to say about the millennial generation coming in. "We work hard to find kids who aspire not only to a college education but to serve our nation," she says. "Cadets come from all walks of life. I have never seen a group of young people who are so committed to community service and leadership in general. We find many who haven't been able to participate in high school activities because they're at home helping mom and dad, or working outside the home to bring in extra income to help the family. And they're still doing outstanding academic work in high school. It's pretty impressive."
Colonel Benyshek knows that her current position allows her to stay in the Air Force until she is sixty-five years old. "I probably won't be staying that long," she laughs, "but it does give me time to put together programs without uprooting things. The nicest thing is that I still get to serve in the Air Force that has given me so much."
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