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Former CIO Inspires STEM Students

Photo Courtesy / CHIPS Magazine
Susan Lawrence aims to motivate STEM students to break barriers and be the best in their field.

Shavonne McLamb 

Staff Writer

On October 31, Former US Army CIO (Chief Information Officer) Susan Lawrence gave an inspiring lecture to students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. Students filled the seats of Beers Lecture Hall, eager to listen as she told how a farm girl turned herself into the CIO of the US Army.

Susan Lawrence was a country girl from Iowa who thought her place in life was to grow up and be a housewife. She was an average C student, preparing for a simple life by taking courses such as home economics, sewing, and typing. After school, Lawrence was a waitress at a local diner in her hometown. An unexpected tragedy occurred in her senior year of high school when her boyfriend was killed in a car accident.

After the accident, she and a friend decided to enter the Buddy program for the Navy, which aims to keep groups of at most four people together throughout enlistment and deployments. Lawrence described the experience poorly, mentioning it had much to do with having a horrible recruiter. She then enlisted in the army and became a sergeant. When she entered the academy, she had to learn everything from scratch which included artillery and special operations. The last task she had to perform was a grueling 10-mile run.

After finishing at the academy, she entered the Women’s Army. The Women’s Army was created in 1942 and dissolved in 1978 but operated as an early extension of the U.S army where women were placed.

Lawrence’s next goal is to write a novel on achieving unimaginable dreams. She described the characteristics of someone who wants to achieve these dreams as resilience, self-reflection, passionate, and hard-working.  

Then she asked the audience, “What is your unimaginable dream?” 

The first step in achieving what’s believed to be an unimaginable dream is to first set small, achievable goals and second is to ask oneself, “What is the first step to achieving that goal?” She encouraged the students to write down the goal because if it is not written down, it’s not real. She also told them to keep challenging themselves, and if they achieved their set goal, set the next goal.

As Lawrence reflected on her journey, she explained to the audience that she entered the Women’s army during the Vietnam War and that there were many blocks for women during that time and many quitting. Lawrence had a passion and became a distinguished graduate.

Lawrence also emphasized the importance of having courage. She encouraged the crowd to see what is out there for themselves and take risks. Lawrence took many risks throughout her career in the army and was forced to face her fears, one of which being heights. Lawrence had to jump out of airplanes, and she had to swallow her fear in order to get the job done. Conquering this fear when she was young gave her the courage to face other fears later in life, such as her fear of water by getting her Scuba diving license.  

After the lecture portion ended, the discussion portion began and students were able to ask questions. When asked by a student what she believed are the qualities of becoming a leader were, she said, “Do things that are unnatural to you.” She also revealed that early on she did not like public speaking and would often practice in the mirror and focused on her posture and mannerisms. 

She told the audience that it takes a network to achieve success. Her network included her family, her friends, and her confronting her peers. Most of the time, her peers or superiors had the mindset of singularity, worrying only of their own problems with little account for others. She preached to not give up or leave the field. Being patient with yourself and others in your field is important, you need to give yourself time to get comfortable even in the most stressful or unforgiving situations.

There are only 11% of working people currently employed in STEM fields and Lawrence reassured the audience that anyone can do it. She had no formal training with the technology of the time. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology and kept herself surrounded by people who were also dedicated and proficient and constantly learned from them.

She closed out the lecture by telling the students about internship opportunities in D.C., San Antonio, TX, and Mechanicsburg, PA. The hour-long lecture aimed to encourage STEM students by telling her life story and how she broke barriers for women in the military and STEM. Those dreams, no matter how extraordinary, can be achieved if you put your mind to it.

Email Shavonne at:

smclamb@live.esu.edu