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Sunday, June 26, 2022

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Stories of Leadership: Renee Swift-McCain

Renee Swift-McCain is a double SDSU alumna.
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Captain Renee Swift-McCain, ’05, ’08, graduated from San Diego State University with both a bachelor's and master's degree in public administration.

Previously stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina and also at Andersen AFB in Guam on active duty, Swift-McCain currently serves as an Air Force reservist and works as a heath care administrator in the higher education sector.

She lives in San Francisco while her husband completes his posting in Guam with the Navy.

What would you consider the highlight of your professional career?

The proudest moment of my Air Force career was when my father commissioned me into the Air Force as a First Lieutenant. There was a small ceremony at the Air Force reserve unit where I had served as a Senior Airman for four years — there wasn’t a dry eye in the house! Also, my medical logistics unit at Seymour Johnson AFB in North Carolina planted a Japanese maple tree in my honor in front of the clinic as a going away gift. It was the perfect gift and I’m quite proud of that. My tree is still growing and is very much alive and well.

What was your favorite college memory?

I really enjoyed the camaraderie of grad school. We had a great group of students that really got along well and it made going to class and also class discussions enjoyable and dynamic.

Who were your favorite professors and/ class? Which class do you think prepared you best for life after graduation?

I think Walt Ekard prepared me best for life after graduation. He taught a class called Decision Making in the Urban Community. I had his 11 Points of Being a Good Leader printed onto a business card and have referenced it often after college. The points have served me well, especially in the military as a leader. He also said he would fire his employees who made a typo or a grammatical error under his name which I took literally. Maybe he was exaggerating, but this taught me to check and recheck work before sending it out and the importance of accuracy.

If you were to give current SDSU Veteran Students some advice, what would you say?


Apply strengths learned in the military, such as organization and attention to detail, and add them to your growing arsenal of skills, but also take advantage of the networking opportunities and embrace the new, non-military aspects of life. I see too many veterans let their service define them as person and in my opinion, this impedes the transition from military to civilian life.

Do you have any advice for SDSU students generally?

Get involved and explore student life to the fullest! Looking back there were a lot of things I wish I’d done or participated in but at the time felt I was too busy or had conflicting obligations. For example, I always wish I would have found the courage to go out for crew or taken a class at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center. Conversely, there are other things I did try that gave me a new perspective and I’m really happy to have experiences like working at the SDSU police department for two years.

What is your motto (and perhaps explain its significance to you). What is your current passion?

I have two that correspond — one to inspire and shoot for the stars while the other brings me back down to earth. Whenever I need a little motivation, JFK's 1962 Race to the Moon speech replays in my head, particularly the line, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." I also believe in a good dose of humility so I often remind myself, "Act like you've done it before."

If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings?

I would divide my lotto winnings into thirds and invest some, spend some, and give some to my favorite charities and causes.

Which trait do you value most in your friends, colleagues and/or employees?


I value honesty, forthrightness and good manners in friends, colleagues and employees. Being a good conversationalist and being able to laugh and also laugh at yourself goes a long way too.

If you knew you could not fail, what would you attempt?

There are a great many things: clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, implement the widespread use of renewable energy for the United States, cure rabies and trek to the South Pole with my husband to start.