Alumna Catherine Cuellar ’96 used her major in creative writing to rocket her into green energy, radio and even art. “The whole liberal arts education taught me how to think and how to adapt, and that has been my biggest asset in corporate America.”
While still at Rhodes, Cuellar started writing for The Dallas Morning News. The paper hired her right out of college. A few years later she quit to freelance for several Web sites. She says, “Eventually I got my foot in the door in public broadcasting as an associate producer of a news show, ‘To The Point with Warren Olney.’ Then I moved back to Dallas to work for KERA (the NPR station in Dallas) as a general assignments reporter.”
Cuellar also co-hosts a nationally syndicated public radio show called “The Writers Studio,” on which she interviews both fiction and nonfiction authors. “I’ve talked with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors as well as best-sellers,” she says. Her guests range from James McPherson, a Civil War historian, to Richard Price, the screenwriter of the TV show “The Wire.” She adds, “It’s like a master class in creative writing because I learn from some of the best authors there are.”
Today, Cuellar’s day job is at Oncor, the sixth-largest electric utility in the United States. She serves as a source for journalists who cover energy, the environment, business and government. “It’s like being an energy beat reporter,” she says.
The field is fairly new to her. “I work primarily alongside engineers. In the office I could be either writing or editing articles for more than 3,000 employees or the 7 million customers in our service area.” One of her primary occupations these days is reporting on the construction of the largest wind transmission project in the United States.
“Oncor is building 850 miles of new utility poles and wires to deliver wind electricity,” Cuellar reports. The project will double the state’s megawatts from renewable sources and make Texas the third-largest wind generator in the world. It will also prevent the need for 10 coal plants, she says. “We are also in the midst of the largest and fastest deployment of the most advanced meters in the U.S. The new technology helps make people aware of how much electricity they are using in order to conserve. We’re really moving the needle on sustainability.”
Cuellar made a lot of green changes in her personal life after participating in the Susan G. Komen For The Cure 3-Day walk. “To practice, I would take distances I used to drive and walk them. In Rhodes terms it would be like saying, ‘I’ll meet you at The Peabody for a drink,’ and then walking from campus in Midtown.” She says, “I lead what I jokingly call a radically pedestrian lifestyle. I take the bus, the train, bike, and walk far more than I drive.”
While most of Cuellar’s career has been linked to journalism, the bulk of her volunteering has revolved around arts and culture. She currently chairs the capital campaign for a nonprofit organization she co-founded in 2006 called La Reunion TX. “Our goal is to build artist housing and studio space. So far, we have 35 acres of land.” Her work with art also led the Dallas City Council to appoint her a Cultural Affairs Commissioner. In this capacity she advises on how city tax dollars are spent on public works of art and culture.
And she does it all with a Rhodes degree. “I didn’t go to grad school; I’ve just been working ever since Rhodes.” So what do alumni do with a major in English? They could co-host a radio show, start a nonprofit, or work for an energy company. The question should really be, “What can’t they do?”
By: Chelsea Hennessy ’11