Local female educator shares success story with Team Fairchild

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ryan Lackey
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Dr. Cynthia Clauson, Spokane School District and STEM Innovation Network planner, spoke to Team Fairchild Airmen of all ranks and genders as part of Women’s History Month at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, March 12, 2019.

Clauson combined a message of gender inclusion, higher education focuses on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) with a strong alliance of military and civilian cooperation.

“We’re proud to have a distinguished educator speak with us today,” said Dawn Altmaier, 92nd Air Refueling Wing community support coordinator. “Dr. Clauson brings more than 20 years of experience teaching children locally and abroad, many of which were military children.”

Clauson touched on her experiences with the Air Force that have permeated much of her life, from childhood to her time as a superintendent of schools, proving herself a success during a time where the roles of men and women were more divided.

“I never thought about being male or female growing up,” said Clauson. “My father would say you can be President of the United States back before women ever thought about doing those things. He told me that I was made to be a leader and being a girl doesn't mean you weren't meant to lead.”

Clauson’s father, a disabled veteran, bucked with tradition in helping to raise his family and both parents supported their children’s endeavors for whichever aspiration they had in mind. However, it was an encounter with a B-52 Stratofortress that helped decide her future, but not in an expected way.

“My dad showed me the inside of a B-52 when I was about 12,” Clauson said. “I'm in this bomber, thinking about wanting to fly this plane and go all over the world like this, as a part of the military. This was during the unpopular Vietnam War, so I asked myself how can I do all these things in a non-violent way?”

Clauson would go on to pursue an education career after a fateful involvement with local charities that gave her the chance to help young children learn to read.

“I learned as a child that my grandmother was illiterate,” Clauson said. “It struck me again working with these kids and my heart just knew that I'm supposed to teach kids to read, so I changed my major in college to become a reading teacher because everyone should love and be able to read.”

After about 10 years as an educator, Clauson acquired a doctorate and was soon after picked to become a superintendent at 32 years old, which was an unusually young age for the position and garnered some dissent amongst her peers. This did not impede Clauson for long, as she found ways to stand out as a leader despite the cultural attitudes she faced.

“I was young and worried about living up to the responsibilities given me,” Clauson said. “While fellow women gave me opportunities, male peers also opened doors for me. I had six male superintendents that took me on as the ‘child’ that needed to learn and I went to them for their extensive expertise in various specialty areas. They became proficient in teaching me their strengths and I became good at being coachable.”

“That was a leadership skill I had to develop, to take the best from the people around me, grow it into what was needed for a situation, regardless of whether they were men or women,” she added.

Her approach worked out better than expected, leading to a highly successful term as superintendent, where she supported inclusion for all children as a means of educational and social growth in the community.

“I like how Dr. Clauson has a strong message of inclusion,” Altmaier said. “It shouldn’t be about the color of your skin, your gender or age … but what are your natural abilities that you’re bringing to the team to achieve a common goal? A diverse team helps drive success.”

Clauson stressed they need for women and minorities to strive to break into professions that are less diverse than they should be, seeing the potential for growth of individuals and job fields by diversifying the thought processes brought to them.

“I didn’t see women as role models for construction jobs when I was helping to build schools in the Middle East,” Clauson said. “Knowing that so much development was occurring and all with a one-sided mindset, so I felt it really needed other ways of thinking to make it better for everyone. This is why I support STEAM, because research shows that innovation works best when you combine multiple ways of thinking.”

The Air Force honors Women’s History Month by highlighting the accomplishments that female Airmen contribute and with the support of local educators like Clauson, the opportunities of both men and women to succeed have become more available than ever before.