Photo of awardee

Brigadier General Theresa C. Carter, PE, USAF

502d Air Base Wing,
Joint Base San Antonio, Texas
BSIE ’85

For nearly three decades serving in the United States Air Force, earning numerous recognitions and awards, and becoming the first female engineering officer promoted to brigadier general.

Brigadier General Theresa C. Carter heeds advice and gathers ideas from many sources. Whether it’s learning from Harry Truman or a subordinate, Carter — the first female civil engineering officer promoted to brigadier general in the United States Air Force (USAF) — says the best ideas often come from people who work for you.

Carter served at the Pentagon; commanded at the squadron, group, and wing levels; deployed in support of the Gulf War in 1990; and in 1997 was named the Air Force Senior Civil Engineering Manager of the Year.

She is Commander, 502d Air Base Wing, Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA), Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Installation Commander for JBSA. She achieved the rank of brigadier general in May 2010.

When Carter explored her college options in the pre-Internet age, she was handed postcards from filing cabinets in her guidance counselor’s office and discovered Purdue. “Purdue had the ROTC program I wanted. I landed at a wonderful school.”

Carter was a member of Purdue’s Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, Golden Key, and Mortar Board, and a residence hall counselor. She has spoken to Purdue engineering students and was most recently the featured speaker for the Women in Engineering Program’s Women’s History Month Mentoring Dinner.

“I had legendary professors at Purdue, and the student body was equally great. One of my freshman suite mates became my sister-in-law.” Carter is still a Boilermaker fan, with season tickets for football and basketball, attending when she can.

As the first female civil engineering general officer, Carter was “ ... surprised and humbled. Creating a general officer takes about 24 years. It was a matter of time before a woman was in her career long enough to have the opportunity. I’m confident we’ll have more women follow me.”

She says mentoring is important. “People don’t always recognize mentoring when they see it. Throughout my career, I’ve had mentoring from bosses, peers — even subordinates. Harry Truman said, ‘It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.’”

Being among the Distinguished Engineering Alumnae is “ ... an incredible honor. I’m humbled; I can’t begin to capture it all.

“If there are other young ladies who can identify with me, and I can inspire them to pursue engineering or a career in the Air Force — even better. I feel an obligation to give back to Purdue and make a difference with the gifts I’ve been given.”

Carter often quotes author Leo Rosten: “‘I think the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made some difference that you lived at all.’ I think of that as a gauge to my success: Leave where you’ve been better than when you found it. Or in my case, leave the installation better able to support its missions.

“I will continue to make a difference in my organization and the lives of the people I lead. After I retire, I would like to continue doing work that matters — stay engaged with Purdue and the Air Force.” 

Career Highlights

2010-present Commander, 502d Air Base Wing, Joint Base San Antonio, Texas
2010 Achieved the rank of Brigadier General
2008 Senior Executive Fellows Program, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.
2007 USAF Senior Leadership Course, Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, N.C.
2003 Distinguished Graduate, MS, National Resource Strategy, Industrial College of the Armed Forces, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C.
1999 Air War College, by correspondence
1998 Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Ala.
1989 Distinguished Graduate, Squadron Officer School, Maxwell AFB, Ala.
1988 MSIE, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla.
1985 BSIE, Purdue University