Karen Kane Swoboda, Eng ’90, and
Charles M. Swoboda, Eng ’89
Reflecting on how Marquette helped prepare them for success, Chuck and Karen are quick to agree: Beyond the invaluable practical and problem-solving skills gained as engineering students, their Jesuit education deepened their faith and encouraged them to live beyond themselves, enabling them to Be The Difference.
Chuck and Karen met in freshman English class and have been a team ever since they cheered together on the Marquette pep squad. While Chuck has spearheaded the remarkable growth of Durham, N.C.-based Cree Inc., leading the LED lighting revolution and growing the company from a small startup to a global market leader, Karen, a former civil environmental engineer, focused on raising the couple’s three children.
Chuck joined Cree in 1993 and was named president at age 32, a director at 33, CEO at 34 and chairman at 38, before retiring in 2017. “Growing a company from $6 million to $1.6 billion is a really incredible journey,” Chuck says. “I’m most proud of the thousands of jobs we created for the people in the community, and the impact those jobs had on making their lives and the community better.”
With more time now that their children (Kimberly, Arts ’11, Kelly, Comm ’16 and Charles, a junior in the Opus College of Engineering) have grown and become part of the Marquette family, Karen has become an active board member with Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C. “I strive to always be working on a project that helps to serve the greater good,” she says.
Karen’s current initiative with Catholic Charities is raising funds to start a full-scale food pantry in Durham, modeled on a successful pantry that serves Raleigh. She has worked on all aspects, including finding a site, fundraising, budgeting and finding community partners. Post-Cree, Chuck joined her in the fundraising efforts, and the couple expects the pantry to open this fall.
Despite living in North Carolina, the Swobodas have remained closely connected with Marquette in many ways. Chuck served on Marquette’s Board of Trustees from 2004 to 2017, including serving as board chair from 2012 to 2014. Karen was a speaker to welcome new parents at the Parent and Family Leadership Council’s fall 2017 reception.
The couple has established an endowed scholarship for out-of-state students studying engineering and also supported a multitude of initiatives across campus including the Innovation Fund, Bridge to the Future, Engineering Hall, the College of Nursing and the Al McGuire Center. They also enthusiastically support the men’s basketball program.
Both say being named Alumni of the Year only motivates them to do more. “I want to live up to what Marquette is about,” Chuck says. “The words Be The Difference have never meant more.”