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AFCLC Faculty Profile: Dr. Susan Steen

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  • By Mikala McCurry, AFCLC Outreach Team

For Dr. Susan Steen, the Air Force Culture and Language Center’s Culture and Region Faculty Chair/Division Chief and Associate Professor of Cross-Cultural Communication, her teaching, administrative work, and research have always been deeply interconnected.

“All of the elements nourish each other in a way. Over time, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly drawn to scholarship – teaching and writing – as the most rewarding elements of my work,” Dr. Steen said. “When I learned about the AFCLC, and a faculty position in my field opened up here, I was delighted to join and take part in its mission educating Air Force and Department of Defense members in cultural competence and capabilities.”

Dr. Steen’s academic field is in Human Communication with emphasis on the relationship of culture and communication. Her Ph.D. program involved an interdisciplinary mix of coursework and  research in communication, cultural and linguistic anthropology, and social psychology.

Dr. Steen’s educational and professional endeavors have entailed large amounts of international travel, which is how she developed her passion for teaching about culture and communication.

“I studied abroad during my junior year of college, and it was a transformative experience. It was the first time I’d truly experienced what it felt like to come from a particular culture, and to be immersed in a different one, and that sparked a curiosity for learning about different people and cultures that I still feel today,” Dr. Steen said.

Throughout her professional career, Dr. Steen has worked in university administration and teaching. All of her work has involved international programming, intercultural communication, and cultural exchange.  Before joining AFCLC, Dr. Steen worked most recently at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, leading the global engagement efforts of that institution.
Since joining AFCLC, Dr. Steen has always valued the culture of caring present throughout the organization.

“One of my favorite characteristics about AFCLC is its culture of caring – caring for each other, for our constituents and students, and for our mission. We’re all deeply committed to our work, and there’s an abiding sense of purpose as well as adventure in what we do,” Dr. Steen said. “The recent U.S. operation that involved transporting and re-locating Afghan refugees is a great example. Our AFCLC Language Division staff has worked night and day to connect critical language speakers to urgent mission needs, and our culture and region professors have offered their support and expertise in helping welcome and orient newly arriving Afghans to American culture and society, in whatever format and at whatever stage works best.”

Dr. Steen enjoys teaching subjects related to culture and communication; resilience of people, organizations and communities; and bridging cultural divides and conflict. She received meaningful recognition in her first year of working at AFCLC when she garnered the Excellence in Teaching award for her Air War College elective class.

“This was teaching in an entirely different context, with a very different audience than traditional undergraduates at a civilian university,” Dr. Steen said. “I was so pleased that the students, colonels and lt. colonels, found it a productive and rewarding experience. It gave me confidence that I had found the right balance of theoretical and practical as well as civilian and military contexts and applications. That model is one I’ve tried to replicate in other courses I teach at Air University.”

Dr. Steen has authored several publications. In 2021, she co-authored an article with Dr. Jacquelyn Whitt, entitled Talking and Listening to Build a Stronger Military:  Cosmopolitan Communication as an Essential Skill of Military Leader Development in the Journal of Character and Leadership Development. The article resulted from a presentation given at AFCLC’s annual Language, Regional Expertise and Culture Symposium.

She also published a chapter focused on “lessons learned” from her work in intercultural communication spanning both civilian higher education and professional military education in The Rise and Decline of U.S. Military Culture Programs, edited by Dr. Kerry Fosher and Dr. Lauren Mackenzie.  Most recently, she co-authored a book chapter in A Cosmopolitan Sensibility with Dr. Barton Buechner that explores factors contributing to the U.S. civilian-military divide and considers ways a communication perspective can help individuals transcend tribalism and cultivate community around a more inclusive and shared sense of moral order.

Dr. Steen was recently named the AFCLC Culture and Region Faculty Chair/Division Chief. In that role, she supports AFCLC leaders and faculty members to ensure they have what they need for continued growth and success. Her main goal is to ensure that the outstanding work of AFCLC faculty members continues to flourish, with increasing recognition of their accomplishments and expertise in ways that enable them to fulfill and extend AFCLC’s mission.

“We’ve significantly expanded our Pre-Deployment Acculturation Course concept in recent years to include not just CENTCOM General Officers but other senior leaders in different regions. The success of the PAC model has been a catalyst for developing other kinds of short, intensive courses educating different kinds of groups, such as our International Aircrew Culture Training (InterACT) course for USAF officer and enlisted personnel assigned to NATO squadrons in Europe. It’s designed to help them better understand socio-cultural contexts surrounding some of the issues they’re facing, and to offer some strategies for effective communication with partners,” Dr. Steen said.

She also highlighted the importance of AFCLC faculty members’ scholarship.

“We have two faculty members leading Air University Research Task Forces, guiding students in a year-long project exploring and researching issues ranging from resilience to basing in INDOPACOM. This is not only a wonderful experience for our faculty and students, but also presents us with opportunities to expand our engagement with key leaders in different commands and regions,” she said. “Our growing record of presentations and publications also reflects our commitment to scholarship that highlights our interests and expertise, and sparks connections with key individuals and communities across Air University, other PME institutions, and civilian universities.”

Dr. Steen recently celebrated her sixth anniversary with AFCLC. “I love my work, and I love working at AFCLC,” she said. “I count my colleagues as true friends, and we have fascinating conversations about just about everything under the sun. Our leaders have an exciting vision for the organization. And my students inspire me every single day. I feel fortunate and grateful to work in such a place, in such a space.” 

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