How student Lauren Steenson earned a spot in the Coast Guard’s advanced education program to pursue New Media Communications at Oregon State University
By Jaycee Kalama, CLA Student Writer
Most students end up in college the same way. They apply, get accepted, and choose a degree to pursue. But for Lauren Steenson, she did not end up in Oregon State University’s New Media Communications program the traditional way. Steenson had to really work for it.
In 2011, Steenson enlisted in the United States Coast Guard, and for the first three and a half years, she worked as a deckhand on a ship homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii. While aboard, she got qualified in seamanship, shipboard damage control, and as a helmsman, a boarding team member, and quartermaster.
In 2015, she went to public affairs A-school and became a public affairs specialist involving photojournalism, media relations, social media management, and crisis communications.
From there, she got stationed in Kodiak, Alaska for two years.
“While there, I deployed on ships to Central America to document drug interdiction operations and the Arctic for polar science operations, as well as a C-130 to drop more scientific equipment to measure differences in elements and sea-ice cover in the Arctic up to the North Pole,” Steenson said.
In 2017, she was stationed in Cleveland, Ohio for four years to oversee public affairs for Coast Guard operations across the Great Lakes as well as international relations with Canada.
Steenson, who is about to advance in rank to Public Affairs Specialist First Class, applied for the Coast Guard’s advanced education program in 2020. In this program, members of the Coast Guard are sent to complete a degree in their field.
“It required an application package, and was a long process with a lot of hoops to navigate,” Steenson said. “I had to pitch a specific degree from a specific school and justify how it would be an investment into the public affairs workforce.”
Only one member from the enlisted public affairs rating gets selected every year, and Steenson was chosen to pursue her BA in New Media Communications at OSU.
According to Steenson, she comes from a family of Beavers. Both of her parents are OSU alumni, and her sister is currently studying sustainable horticulture at OSU. This has been the first time Steenson has lived within driving distance of her family in over a decade, she added.
“My two years at OSU have been wonderful,” Steenson said. “NMC has been the best possible program I could have chosen as an investment into my career and future. I never thought there would be a major that encapsulates so many of my interests.”
Speaking of her interests, Steenson is drawn to visual storytelling, which means some of her favorite courses include applied media aesthetics, pre-production, and documentary filmmaking.
“The NMC department is full of amazing individuals who are super passionate about their job fields and teaching,” Steenson said. “Dr. Dan Faltesek in particular orchestrates really engaging discussions and activities that weave in current events and trending topics.”
In terms of her hobbies and interests outside of her education, Steenson enjoys playing volleyball, spending time with her two Cardigan Welsh corgis Huck and Maybe, volunteering as a regional coordinator for the Cardigan Welsh Corgi National Rescue Trust for the Pacific Northwest, and spending as much time with her family as she can before moving again.
Looking forward, Steenson will be graduating this June, and then returning to her job in the Coast Guard—this time, in Elizabeth City, N.C. as a member of the Public Information Assist Team.
“I will be traveling the country with teams to run training courses and exercises for joint information centers which streamline mass communications in disaster situations,” Steenson said. “PIAT is also sort of a ‘go team’ for urgent deployments to set up joint information centers. The most common types of disasters the Coast Guard responds to with the Incident Command System are hurricanes and oil spills.”
Through her education in the New Media Communications program, Steenson feels she has so much to contribute to her job as a public affairs practitioner.
“It has really made connections in my mind about how to approach things in my job like social media, content creation, media relations, and advising upper leadership on strategic communications,” Steenson said. “If you have an opportunity and desire to pursue this degree, go for it. I don’t see having my BA as a formality after going through NMC courses. Each one has offered professional development opportunities, truly useful skills, and an amazing network of people to be connected with.”