Alumni Spotlight - August 2023
Kara Schwendener '04
There are those special people in the world that when they describe why they do what they do for a living, you get overwhelmed with emotion. Their passion is contagious, and you have to wonder if everyone who worked in that field was just like them…what a wonderful world it would be. That’s what speaking to Kara Schwendener ‘04 about being an educator is like.
Kara was born and raised in the East County of San Diego, in Alpine, California, and knew from the time she was in kindergarten that she wanted to be a teacher. Whether it was being inspired by her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Turk, playing school with her best friend Natalie, or volunteering with children as she got older, that love for being an educator was always present. When it came time to decide where to go to college, though, after graduating from Granite Hills High School, Kara knew teachers didn’t earn the best salaries. She enjoyed working on computers and had a family friend attending Oregon Tech studying computer engineering so she pursued a dual degree in computer software engineering in Klamath Falls.
Kara loved her time at Oregon Tech! She worked in housing for four years as a Resident Advisor and Senior Resident Advisor, volunteered with AWANA and other youth ministries, and made friends that remain close today. She also developed lifelong relationships with her professors. The academic aspect was challenging, though, and at that time, Kara was one of only a handful of women who had successfully gone through the dual Computer Systems Engineering and Software Engineering program. Computer programming didn’t come easy to Kara and she gives all the credit to her professors, including Doug Lynn and Todd Breedlove, for arriving early to school, staying late, and coming in on weekends to help her succeed. Upon graduation, she was so successful that a top Reno employer hired her, International Gaming Technology (IGT).
At IGT, Kara worked as a software engineer for five years. She became close to several of her fellow Oregon Tech alumni, including Marcus Schwendener ’03, who has worked at IGT for over 20 years. The two began dating and were married in 2007. To start a family, Kara took time off from work to raise their children. When both her daughters were in elementary school, she took the opportunity to reevaluate her career. Kara knew that her passion did not lie in working with computers. However, she credits Oregon Tech for transforming her from a student with no computer background and who struggled into an employable and knowledgeable engineer. Kara realized she was already spending her free time volunteering with children, so Marcus encouraged her to lean into her passion and pursue her Master’s in Elementary Education, which Kara completed through Grand Canyon University. As she put it, “I love being around kids. They’re my people.” Earning that second degree was much easier for Kara, as she explains that Oregon Tech had prepared her to be a hard worker.
Kara started her teaching career in 2017 as a substitute teacher, later teaching 2nd and 3rd grades before finding her niche as a 6th grade Math and Science teacher. Heavily influenced and supported by her Oregon Tech professors, Kara recalls how they taught her the meaning and value of differentiated instruction before it was a concept she would later learn to incorporate herself as an educator. She says, “I look back on the professors I had and how they took a personal interest in helping me succeed, frequently giving up hours of their personal time to help me reach my goals. They’re truly my inspiration. I want that for my students. I want to be the teacher that gives whatever it takes to help my students succeed. I want to be the teacher who goes to baseball or soccer games and learns what they are passionate about. I want to be that teacher because that’s what my teachers were for me, and I know what an impact it had on my life.” Kara elaborates that she expected to go to college and be a number. “I was not prepared for the number of lifelong relationships that I came out with.” Her advice for students is to “stay in the residence halls; that’s where the fun happens and where friendships are formed.” She adds, “You get out of life what you put into it, so lean into it…don’t be afraid to go all in!”
Kara and Marcus reside in Reno, Nevada, with their two daughters, Evelyn, age 13, and Laina, age 11. Kara is fortunate to teach at Marce Herz Middle School, where her daughters attend. The Schwendeners enjoy family game nights and camping trips with other fabulous Reno alumni in their spare time. Kara is the prime example of someone who has changed careers with grace and inspiration while still being so appreciative of her Oregon Tech experience and connected to her alma mater. To know her is to realize what all educators should aspire to be like.
~Becky Burkeen, Director of Alumni Relations