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STEM, Resiliency and a New Scholarship

AFCEA International President and CEO is paying it forward by giving back to her alma mater.

Recruitment remains the greatest hurdle for the cyber workforce, with more than 700,000 unfilled jobs in an increasingly complex landscape. 

Determined to address this critical national security issue and to encourage the younger generation to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), AFCEA International President and CEO Lt. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence, USA (Ret.) recently established a scholarship fund for enlisted soldiers attending Campbell University at Fort Liberty, formerly known as Fort Bragg.

Seeking to mirror the beginning of her own career journey, Gen. Lawrence established the Susan Lawrence Soldier for Life Scholarship to award $5,000 to a young soldier pursuing a STEM-based degree.   

At its core, AFCEA International advocates for innovation and the advancement of modern technology. And to remain competitive as a world leader, the Unites States must “increase the number of our technical skill sets,” Gen. Lawrence told SIGNAL Media. 

A rapidly growing cyber landscape calls for a large demand for talent. There are, however, barriers to finding candidates most suitable for cyber jobs. “I would like to see industry not require four-year degrees,” Gen. Lawrence said, citing an example of one possible change. “When you think about all these soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, civilians, getting out of the armed forces with years of experience in cyber operations, why would we not hire them?”

As the former U.S. Army chief information officer/G-6, Gen. Lawrence offered an additional idea to help close the recruitment gap: trade schools. “I grew up in Iowa, and I didn't have the grades, my parents didn’t have the money to send me to school and had I not enlisted in the Army, I probably would have [gone] to a trade school.”  

Replacing the required four-year degree with a two-year trade school certificate in cyber would prove beneficial. “I would love to see trade schools stood up to teach cyber and increase our workforce there as well,” she stated. 

The scholarship provides a chance for Gen. Lawrence to give back to her community and affect future generations. “I was a young sergeant at Fort Bragg jumping out of airplanes, getting scholarships, working for a degree at Campbell University,” Gen. Lawrence said. While beginning her career as a stenographer and getting an undergraduate degree in psychology, she later earned an MBA in information systems management.  

As a college student and member of a ROTC program, Gen. Lawrence led as the student battalion commander and was selected as the winner of the George C. Marshall Leadership Award at Campbell University.

In many ways, the establishment of a scholarship marks a full circle moment for the retired lieutenant general, who today holds the title of emeritus president of the George C. Marshall International Center. 

It’s important to understand our history, Gen. Lawrence stated. Marshall, who throughout his career was a five-star general, secretary of state, secretary of defense, president of the American Red Cross and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is the epitome of ethics and leadership for the United States. 

Such leadership is what inspires Gen. Lawrence and her team at AFCEA International to invest in the development of future leaders, which is why the Susan Lawrence Soldier for Life Scholarship selection board is looking for a candidate with more than just the pursuit of a STEM education. 

“What has that person done to lead other men and women, or in organizations? And what have they done in the community?” Gen. Lawrence asked. 

While not all leaders are created equal, the one common trait is resiliency. “In moments of hardship,” Gen. Lawrence asks candidates, “What gave you the strength and resiliency to pick yourself back up and keep going?” 

Applications are due November 30, and a winner will be announced this winter. Learn more about the Susan Lawrence Soldier for Life Scholarship