Participant Spotlight on… Tina Claflin
EBV-SU 2017 welcomed aspiring veteran entrepreneurs to the Syracuse University campus. Each one came with a unique story to tell. Here’s one of them. Meet Tina Claflin.
As a little girl, Tina Claflin was enraptured by her family’s stories of military experience. She remembers writing letters to her uncle at just ten years old, while he was away serving in the Coast Guard. When he returned home, he brought with him gripping tales of humanitarian rescues and noble environmental missions.
“I didn’t know it at the time,” Claflin said, “but I think that sparked something in me.”
Claflin said those stories helped inspire her to choose a similar path for herself when she grew up. She enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1995.
Her dream was to serve on a Coast Guard Cutter – or, a Coast Guard-commissioned vessel with a live-on crew. She knew she would face challenges, but didn’t anticipate where those issues would come from – gender discrimination and the cutters’ berthing arrangements.
“I guess I was a bit naive,” she said. “Growing up in northern Wisconsin, I really wasn’t discouraged to do things because of my gender. I always thought that with the military, you could do anything you wanted, whether you’re male or female.”
She figured that in 1995, gender discrimination was a thing of the past.
“It wasn’t until going through my career that I started to see subtle things,” she said, “nothing blatantly obvious, just subtle things – like people’s attitudes and the culture within the military. I started to see my peers getting jobs that I wanted, but I couldn’t get them… because of restrictions in the berthing. I started to say, ‘hey, yeah, we’re not quite there yet.’”
A ship’s “berthing” refers to the arrangements it has on board for the crew to sleep in. When many of the ships were built, the plans did not account for mixed-gender crews.
Claflin wasn’t about to let that stop her, though. She worked in engineering, another field largely dominated by men, and proved herself with her natural aptitude for mechanical tinkering. She learned about leadership and practiced understanding those who worked around her. She credits her mentors for never seeing her as ‘less than’ because she was a woman, and followed their example when it came time for her to mentor others.
“I really hope that throughout my career, I was a good mentor whether the person I was mentoring was male or female. I hope I was able to show people that you can do anything you want within the service. You just have to work hard and learn and be a good leader,” she said.
She became the Women Afloat Coordinator – helping advocate for equality within jobs and getting women placed on cutters. She had the opportunity to mentor women who were facing the same issues she did, and advise them to take career paths where they could prove their capabilities. She advocates that women shouldn’t have to try to be ‘one of the boys’ to do the jobs they want to do.
“It was through that,” she said, “that I realized you should really be true to yourself, instead of trying to fit in.”
Having successfully set a lasting precedent against gender bias in the Coast Guard, Claflin is trying her hand at a new project: entrepreneurship.
“I’ve been doing engineering for the past 22 years,” she said, “I want to do something different, explore more of the creative side of myself, and the business side. While I still love engineering, I felt I was ready for a change.”
Since her family’s stories were so instrumental in her life, she plans to use these creative and business-oriented sides of herself to help others preserve their stories.
Halcyon Reflections will take the documents, awards and photographs representing people’s stories and turn them into various types of keepsakes to preserve them for years to come. Claflin also records and produces videos to preserve oral histories so that future generations can listen to the stories of their predecessors directly from the ones that lived through them.
“The whole vision is really to honor and preserve people’s stories,” she said. “I want to help them understand that however small they think their story was, or is, that it has probably impacted others in ways they may never even see… I joined the Coast Guard because of the stories I heard growing up… It really gave me an opportunity to do something I couldn’t have done, had I not joined. It was a huge part of my life, and also a stepping stone to where I am now.”
Claflin is excited to participate in EBV Syracuse 2017 so she can develop this idea and make her business as successful as possible.