Never stop pursuing your path. Lauren Steenson found hers over 12 years, five stations and countless adventures.

Steenson standing on the edge of a large ship with an American flag waving above her with two crewmates standing next to her

Lauren Steenson, ’23, had always been interested in visual storytelling and photography. But it wasn’t until she joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 2011 that she discovered how to turn her interests into the future she wanted.

Steenson wanted to become a public affairs specialist — it was her goal the moment she joined the Coast Guard. She found an internal job opening and decided to add her name to the wait list for the Coast Guard’s Public Affairs A-School — a program needed to qualify for the job. But the A-School only admits a few Coast Guard members at a time, so Steenson patiently waited for more than three years.

Finally, Steenson was admitted. She began a 12-week course at a Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Maryland, focusing on news and feature writing, photography and military policy on public information. She completed her course in 2015, officially becoming a public affairs specialist. After graduating from the Public Affairs A-School, she was stationed in Kodiak, Alaska for two years — and deployed  to Central America and the Arctic — where she put her new skills to good use documenting the Coast Guard’s work through many different avenues.

badge for uniform that says "National Strike Force U.S. Coast Guard. Public Information Assist Team"
Steenson in a black helicopter helmet with a microphone over her mouth
Steenson and another person standing at the exit door of an airplane that looks over ice

“I have gotten to incorporate photography, video, graphic design and social media content creation and management into my job, which has given me the creative freedom I thrive in,” Steenson says. “The military aspect provides a good structure for me personally to keep me on track. I didn’t really know I needed that kind of balance in my professional life until I experienced it.”

Steenson continued working up the ranks toward public affairs specialist first class and decided to apply for the Coast Guard’s advanced education program — where the Coast Guard would send her to college so she could complete her bachelor’s degree. In this highly sought-after program, only one enlisted public affairs specialist is selected each year — and for 2020, Steenson was it.

She chose new media communications in the College of Liberal Arts — a program that provided her with useful skills, a network of like-minded people and many professional development opportunities.

“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 says. “If you have an opportunity and desire to pursue this degree, go for it.”

Steenson adds that her Oregon State experience has inspired her in many ways — from the enthusiastic NMC faculty to the engaging discussions and activities.

“My two years at OSU were wonderful,” she says. “NMC was 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 encapsulated so many of my interests.”

Today, Steenson specializes in crisis communications for incidents like hurricanes and oil spills as a member of the Public Information Assist Team in the Coast Guard’s Atlantic area, which is part of the National Strike Force. There, she delivers important information to the general public, ranging from news releases to media interviews to photo and video content for an incident news site and social media channels, helping people in high-stress situations.

“We need to make sure our message is reaching and being received by the right audience because it could be about their safety in a disaster,” she says. “It’s a great feeling to see how the content we put out helps people make informed decisions for their families.”

Steenson’s ambitions continue. She is now finishing up a series of Public Information Assist Team courses, including incident response and the science behind oil spills, and hopes to advance to the rank of chief petty officer by 2025.

When Steenson decided to join the Coast Guard, “I told myself it didn’t have to be forever,” she says. “It could be a four-year adventure to gain some good experience or the start to a career.”

It turned out to be all that and more. “Twelve years, five stations and countless adventures later, I am still loving it.”