Meet Susan Steen: our new board member in 2020

Susan Steen has recently joined the Board of the CMM Institute. She is an Assistant Professor of Cross-Cultural Communication at the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC) and has written an introduction to herself and how she has found CMM inspiring in her work and life.

I’m Susan (Suzy) Steen. I’m happy to join the CMM Institute Board alongside wonderful people I have long admired, in stewardship of work I find so meaningful.

CMM has both grace and power: to explain; to frame; to engage in healthier and, yes, kinder communication practices. It has become a significant part of my work over the past three and a half years, since two things happened. While reviewing recent scholarship on communicating across cultural chasms, I discovered a marvelous paper by Kazuma Matoba (http://integralleadershipreview.com/11695-815-global-integral-competence-cosmopolitan-communication/) that expanded on the notions of cosmopolitan communication, derived from CMM. Around the same time, I met fellow Board member Bart (Dr. Barton Buechner) who—along with me— was presenting a paper on an NCA conference panel organized by our accomplished colleague and friend, Dr. Lauren Mackenzie (https://cmminstitute.org/2019/12/16/using-cmm-in-military-contexts/) It felt like my scholarly interests, past and present, were coalescing and colliding in marvelous ways. The three of us used our presentations as a “springboard” to co-author an article on cosmopolitan communication as a best practice for developing intercultural competence https://cmminstitute.org/2018/12/12/the-handbook-of-communication-training/. I’ve incorporated CMM in my work ever since.

I’m the Assistant Professor of Cross-Cultural Communication at the Air Force Culture and Language Center (AFCLC), based at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Like professors at civilian universities, I teach classes, research and write, advise and supervise student research, and engage in service. My students include military members who range in rank from beginning enlisted all the way up through General Officer, international officers from key partner nations, and civilians from various U.S. government agencies. I teach undergraduate and graduate classes, in person and online. The students “wow” me at every turn, and I have some of the most talented and collegial colleagues imaginable, with whom I have lively conversations about everything under the sun. 

Before joining the AFCLC four and a half years ago, I spent more than 20 years in higher education, leading the international projects and programs of the institutions at which I worked.  This afforded unparalleled opportunities to work closely with (and learn from) international and American faculty and students, and to travel overseas regularly.  Over the years, and across different jobs, my teaching, administrative work, and scholarly interests have all intersected and woven together in interesting ways. I feel fortunate and grateful for this. 

In thinking about my work—past and present—I draw on Barnett Pierce’s description of CMM as a practical theory, a worldview, and a set of tools. CMM offers so many applications in helping us consider and cope with the important social, cultural, and political issues of our times. And across a myriad of contexts, the role of agency in how we approach and manage our interactions—a key feature of CMM—resonates strongly in many of my communities, and flows through not only my work life but my personal life, as well.

I’m married to a wonderful man, who gave me the best of gifts in my “bonus son” and in-laws and I have two remarkable sisters and an amazing dad. Add to that my fabulous colleagues and friends, and I can claim an embarrassment of riches in my relationships. And yet even in these tightest of circles, others’ perspectives and positions occasionally seem far removed from my own. When that happens, I remind myself that my own choices in interaction, turn by turn, can honor different viewpoints and voices and thus contribute to continuing the conversation, or not —and perhaps douse it altogether. In this sense, “making better social worlds” on a larger scale can begin humbly, in small ways, at home—one conversation, one family member, one friend at a time. There’s enormous grace, and power, in that. 

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