Amber Beale grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and all the while, she was dreaming of attending The University of Alabama. “I’ve been a lifelong Alabama fan. It’s in my blood,” she said. When she was nearing the end of high school and considering colleges, UA was at the top of her list. But her career plans with the U.S. Navy steered her in another direction. Since UA didn’t have a Navy ROTC program, she ended up selecting the University of South Carolina for her bachelor’s in Marine Science. Even as she lived and studied in Gamecock territory, she told herself, “I have to get a piece of paper from UA at some point in my life!”
In 2013, after graduating from USC, Amber commissioned as an Surface Warfare Officer in the Navy. After her first assignment as an engineer on a ship in Virginia, she received orders for duty in Japan and decided it was time to pursue a master’s. She researched various programs that would enhance her resume and prepare her for a civilian career transition. She decided on UA’s online Master of Science in Operations Management, which she began from Japan in May 2016.
Amber’s career experience differed from many others in the Operations Management degree program. Much of the material focused on supply chain and manufacturing, but she still found the course content to be applicable to her work. “The classes dealt a lot with management, and while I had experience leading in the Navy, the coursework helped push me even further,” she said. Several of Amber’s classes were helpful to her, including courses on statistical analysis and leadership and ethics, but one class in particular earned the top spot in her mind.
“The course on continuous process improvement was my favorite. It was applicable to so many fields. I could take a lesson out of that class and go to work the next day and apply it immediately to make things better, make processes work smoother – and it could totally change the way we operated for the better.” Amber said this simultaneous learning and utilizing the class material made all the difference. “When you’re able to apply the concepts you’re learning hands-on like that, it just makes everything click.”
Amber completed the entire 30-credit-hour degree from Japan, despite being 14 hours ahead of her instructors and classmates. “It was definitely interesting. If I was working on a Friday deadline, it was really a Saturday morning deadline for me. I tried to stay ahead so that I didn’t get caught up in that confusion.” This intentional drive to work forward helped Amber, but occasionally, her military commitment brought unforeseeable circumstances and delays. “The professors were totally understanding and gave me an extra 12 hours to accommodate my situation when it was necessary.”
That accommodating spirit wasn’t limited to professors. Amber said she encountered kindness and willingness from everyone she interacted with at UA. “Everyone along the way at UA was so helpful. Even the application process – which I completed during a deployment to the Middle East – was smooth because of how the admissions counselors helped. I’ve talked to others who chose other schools, and I haven’t heard stories of their schools being as supportive and understanding.”
In May 2018, Amber completed the master’s degree and made the trip to Tuscaloosa along with her whole family of Alabama fans for graduation. A little over a year after graduating, Amber was honorably discharged from the Navy and found the master’s helpful in transitioning her career to the civilian marketplace.
“Some of the opportunities I’ve had only happened because I have that UA master’s. It’s been wild. It’s opened up a million other avenues for me to take outside of my bachelor’s and my Navy experience.” Amber is currently a senior systems analyst for Gryphon Technologies, where she supports the Navy as a contractor, a position she absolutely believes she was able to get because of her master’s in Operations Management.
Amber finally received that piece of paper from UA, and she’s earned her sense of pride. “It feels amazing. I love telling people that I graduated from UA. I hardly ever tell them about USC, I just jump straight to UA. It’s my greatest accomplishment next to the Navy. I love it, and I love telling people about it. My diploma is right in my living room, centered and square on the wall.”
Published: September 9th, 2020