Liz McLean, SVHS class of 2002, was backpacking on the John Muir Trail with her mother and brother, when she saw a lightning storm brewing above the treeline. The trio quickly found shelter, settling near an older gentleman along the trail. As they began to talk, he told McLean that he was impressed by her endurance, and asked where she wanted to go to school and what she wanted to be when she was older.
McLean told him that she was hoping to go to Stanford, and to one day become an astronaut. He suggested the Air Force Academy instead.
“I immediately fell in love with it once I realized what types of differences I could make there – and be judged on discipline and athletics!” said McLean. “I always said I wanted to somehow change the world and never settle.”
McLean filled her days at Sonoma Valley High School to the brim. She ran cross country and track, and was part of the school’s theater productions throughout her high school career. “The concept of being a jock and a drama geek was funny to some – but it helped me focus on being well rounded,” she said.
She knew from a young age that she wanted to make a difference, “and truly the epitome of that was outer space or military leadership,” said McLean.
McLean found a second home in the Air Force Academy. “It was incredible and I made the best friends anyone could imagine by going through rough times together – everyone has each other’s backs and you end up with brothers and sisters you can truly trust.”
She also found that the lifestyle suited her. “I loved the discipline, I loved the concept of deploying and I loved the concept of getting dirty to get things done.”
After graduating from the Air Force Academy in 2006, McLean obtained a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology and spent five years as a logistics readiness officer for the Air Force both overseas, and in New Jersey and Florida.
Fast forward a few years, and McLean founded her own company, Liz McLean Veteran Solutions in the Bay Area, “assisting organizations in creating and offering improvements of their military programs.”
She also consulted for military.com, which connects servicemembers, military families and veterans to all the benefits of service – government benefits, scholarships, discounts, friends and mentors.
“I wanted to solve veterans employment,” said McLean.
While working for a short time previously at Hewlett-Packard, McLean had seen the problems with veteran programs in the corporate world firsthand. She received calls day in and day out asking for advice. “I was doing it all for free!” she explained about her shift toward consulting.
Currently, McLean is the strategic outreach and partnership director at Shift.org, which is the United States’ “first fellowship opportunity endorsed by the government that uses intelligent matching.” The company aims to connect veterans with employers at “high-growth, mission-driven companies.”
She now lives in Boulder, and the last of her relatives living in Sonoma, her father, died this year. “But family friends that I grew up with still live there that I consider my family,” said McLean.
Looking back on her high school days, McLean advised students to “go with passion and drive and your gut feel.”
Learn more at shift.org.