Vince Stricherz, UWeek
When you come from a military background and have a fondness for higher education, it's not necessarily a simple thing to find a career that meshes the two. But Laura Davenport found a spot at the UW that did just that.
For three years she has been lead secretary and the only UW employee for the Aerospace Studies Department and Air Force ROTC Detachment 910. But, as her 2009 Distinguished Staff Award might indicate, her role is beyond that of a typical secretary.
"She performs complex secretarial duties, coordinates office operations and makes travel arrangements," Col. P.K. White, aerospace studies chairman, wrote in a nominating letter. "She is the first person people talk to when they call, and the first person people see when they enter our office; she always makes an outstanding impression on prospective students and their parents."
The detachment has 5.5 officer positions and three enlisted personnel and carries 115 to 150 cadets, depending on the time of the year, a higher number than the Army, Navy or Marine ROTC detachments on campus.
"I tend to think of myself as the liaison between the UW and the Air Force," Davenport said. "I play traffic cop in some regards."
She also plays "detachment mom" to the students.
"Sometimes they come to me in tears and I have the fun of telling them it's going to be OK. Other times I say, 'Stop crying, suck it up and act like an officer.'
"They're my babies. I watch them come in as freshmen and they're so young and nervous, but I can assure their parents they're in good hands," she said. "Watching them mature and grow is very gratifying."
Both of Davenport's parents were in the Navy, and she served three years before taking an early discharge as she went through a divorce.
"I loved being in the Navy. I loved the structure and the discipline. I loved the diversity," she said.
After her discharge, living as a single mother on welfare in Eugene, Ore., she entered a community college program that guided her back to higher education. She got a degree from the University of Oregon, then went to Portland State University to work and earn a master's degree.
She moved with her partner to Seattle four years ago and landed at the UW a year later. Even though the military's Don't Ask-Don't Tell policy does not apply to her as a civilian employee, she said she made it clear during job interviews that she is a lesbian.
"I feel very respected and appreciated in this environment for who I am and for the service I provide," she said.
Besides her ROTC duties, Davenport is lead Service Employees International Union steward for north campus, and also serves on the UW Transportation Committee and the Group 1 Safety Committee.
Others in the department cite her efforts as being instrumental in the UW's Air Force ROTC program being recognized as the top program nationally in 2007.
"One of the most important elements of Laura's service is her sense of volunteerism," Capt. Allen Monroe, assistant professor of aerospace studies, wrote in a support letter. "She is probably grossly overqualified for her current position and she consistently looks to assist the other members of not only this but also our neighboring departments when she sees an opportunity to make a positive impact."
Davenport's duties include issuing uniforms to the cadets and directing them to the proper person to talk to for academic and career guidance. But she also makes sure they look like officers, wearing the uniform correctly and getting haircuts when needed.
She believes an important part of her mission is to help cadets understand their role in protecting everyone's right to speak out and question government leaders. "If I can help a future officer understand the importance of diversity to our country, then I've done my job," she said.
The hardest aspect of the job, she said, is losing close colleagues on a regular basis, since the Air Force rotates new personnel in on an average of every three years.
"It's my job to help them," she said. "These officers and enlisted personnel are coming from a very different environment, sometimes from the front lines, and it's my job to help them assimilate."