Irna May Connor - Finding a Voice In & Out of the Military

Irna May Connor went from a US Air Force Captain, to Sociology Major at George Mason University, to Research Programmer at  Mathematica Policy Research  in Washington, DC.

Irna May Connor went from a US Air Force Captain, to Sociology Major at George Mason University, to Research Programmer at Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, DC.

Since Aurora's internship program began in 2010, four female veterans have come through to complete school and earn a job in their chosen career field.  All have a unique story of their time serving their country, and Irna May Connor is no exception.  Her time in the Air Force helped her not only conquer certain fears and obstacles, but allowed her to discover her passion for research in the civilian world.  Her leadership as an Air Force Officer has helped her hone skills that she'll continue to use while advancing in her quantitative research position at Mathematica Policy Research in DC.

But discovering the confidence to follow her passions, both in and out of the military, was not always a clear-cut road.  Originally, Irna May joined the Air Force because she wasn't quite sure what she wanted to do after college.  As an ROTC cadet, she quickly learned the Air Force offered far more than job security.  Her time as a cadet helped her conquer different challenges and come out stronger:

I think one of the main things I overcame was my lack of confidence. As an ROTC cadet, I was quiet and a little nervous, but when you go to field training and have to do things you’ve never done before, you get over your fears. You have to in order to get through the ordeals. After separating from the military, I’m definitely more confident, I have a better understanding and perspective of how people think, and I know I am capable, intelligent, and strong, and my military experience has helped shape that part of me.
— Irna May Connor

While serving, she held several different positions before landing her final two years in the Air Force at the Presidio of Monterey, CA.  Here, she served as the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) for the Air Force personnel on base.  This task opened her eyes to the plights of many women and men in the military, and instilled in her a further interest in helping people through the field of sociology.  After leaving the Air Force, she chose to go back to school for an undergraduate degree in sociology from George Mason University, despite the fact that she'd already earned a bachelors seven year earlier.  She completed her undergraduate degree in two years, and went on to complete her master's in Sociology in two years as well.

I chose sociology because my previous degree was psychology, and I was always interested in social psychology. Also, as a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), you face many sociological questions, because sexual assault is very much an issue that is shaped by society, especially when you look at how many people and agencies are involved when a sexual assault occurs. These factors influence the preventative measures we take when having these conversations.
— Irna May Connor

As she was going through her degree program, she found that she loved the research aspect of sociology, especially the quantitative research piece.  She found that research groups could use these numbers to benefit victims of sexual assault crimes, and discovered her passion in being a part of the team that helped the track and present these figures to form policy.  During her time as a GMU student, she interned with SNVC, L.C., a veteran-owned, technology services company in Fairfax, VA.  This internship, sponsored by the Aurora Foundation, helped her see quantitative data collection in action from both a business and non-profit perspective. Upon graduating from George Mason University, she went on to work for the Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility (HACR), and is now a Research Programmer with Mathematica Policy Research in Washington, DC.

As we honor female leaders during Women's History Month, we remember that they all started somewhere and had to earn their way to where they are today.  As a female entering the civilian workforce, Irna May realized she brought far more the table in terms of the skills she'd acquired in the Air Force.  After successfully transitioning into her new role at Mathematica, she has some words of advice for military service members, particularly women, looking to successfully re-integrate into the civilian workforce:

You’ll realize the skills you’ve learned in the military are what comprise your strength when you’re in class with students who were in high school a year ago, and you’ll remember that a year ago you were in a combat zone just trying to keep the sand out of your eyes while eating an MRE (and sand). So when things get difficult, just look back on those obstacles you were able to overcome, and you will find a way to succeed.
— Irna May Connor