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Photo by Crystalynn Kneen | Coast Guard conducts port assessment near Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma

 

In the heart of a hurricane

Kneen in The White House Press Briefing Room

U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Crystalynn Aurora Kneen thrives in stressful situations. Last year she has managed Joint Information Centers (JIC) in the middle of humanitarian and environmental crisis events including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“We had one of the most catastrophic hurricane seasons on record. Being in a JIC at a response can be stressful and hectic,” Kneen said. “I do a lot of critical thinking, advise the unified command on public affairs, gather incident information, inform the media and public and monitor public perception.”

If doing all of that in the midst of those hurricane response efforts was not enough, Kneen was also busy earning her strategic communication degree from Washington State University’s (WSU) Edward R. Murrow College of Communication.

“The first couple days of Harvey were tiring and emotional. I was working 12-16 hours a day, but really 24 because I was sleeping on a cot,” Kneen said with a laugh. “Whenever I had downtime I would do my homework. When I left Texas after Hurricane Harvey and had to go to Puerto Rico for Irma, I did the same thing. Then I did it again for Maria.”

Earning the degree she wanted

After earning her associate’s degree from Everett Community College in 2016, Kneen transferred to WSU Everett.

“I knew I wanted a Murrow College degree. The communications reputation is awesome. I chose WSU Everett because of the direct transfer agreement program from Everett Community College,” Kneen said. “I had a smooth transition from community college to one of the best communications programs in the nation.”

When she had to return to her Coast Guard duties in Florida, it required her to transfer her studies to WSU’s Global Campus after completing her junior year at WSU Everett. That’s when the Atlantic hurricane season happened.

Kneen wearing her cap and honor cords in Miami

“When I had to transfer back into the fleet in Miami, WSU Everett faculty and staff made sure I had their support and made the transition simple and stress free,” Kneen said. “By transferring to Global Campus, I was able to continue my degree and graduate from the college I dreamed of while completing my military objectives.”

Thanks to the relationships with faculty and staff, Kneen remains closely tied to the WSU Everett campus, so she wanted her degree conferred at the WSU Everett commencement ceremony. However, her duties will keep her in Florida for Fleet Week and two major crisis communications oil spill drills in Miami and Tampa.

“I wanted to attend commencement. This is a major milestone in my life. I worked really hard, but the Coast Guard missions come first,” she said. “As the assistant public information officer for my district, these are events I must be at in order to set a good example for my subordinates, but also these are my obligations to my unit as their chief.”

To overcome the distance, Murrow College academic coordinator Kris Baier, who managed Kneen’s enrollment to WSU Everett and the Global Campus, hatched a plan to help her participate.

“Crystalynn has done so much amazing work in the most challenging circumstances; we couldn’t stand for her not participating with us,” Baier said. He mailed Kneen her regalia, honor cords and veteran coin and during the ceremony he will walk across the stage when Kneen’s name is announced, holding a phone that will be livestreaming the ceremony.

When her image on the phone crosses that stage in Everett, she will also hold the honor of being the first student to earn a degree in strategic communication through WSU’s Global Campus.

A legacy for her family

“I went to college for my son Dominic. I constantly stressed to him the importance of going to college because I never had. I knew then I had to be an example for him, so I applied for the Coast Guard’s advance education program and got it!” Kneen said. “He is now attending the University of Findlay for pharmacy school, and now I’m graduating from WSU. Go Cougs!”

Learn more about WSU Everett Integrated Strategic Communication or apply here.