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Life and Work with Amanda Etter

Today we’d like to introduce you to Amanda Etter.

Amanda, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
As a girl from the small town of Ravenna, Ohio, I never thought I would be where I am today. I grew up in a lower middle class family, divorced parents, two step-brothers, and fairly typical upbringing. My work ethic, ambitions, and values were embedded in me by my mother. She was a constant support and encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams. However, in April of 2000, I made a decision to join the United States Marine Corps. It was an impulsive, shocking, and pivotal moment in my life. Needless to say, my mother did not approve, but encouraged and supported the decision I made.

Throughout my time as an Aviation Supply Specialist in the Marine Corps, I learned about achieving a sense of purpose, taking pride in everything you do, and building a sense of camaraderie that is unparalleled. In achieving the rank of Sergeant, I quickly learned what leadership was and developed those skills. The ability to travel the world and work side by side with such a diverse population gave me a new-found perspective on equality and equity. These are typical lessons instilled in servicemembers that make veterans true assets in the community.

After my end of active duty service, I got married and had my daughter. I also began my education pursuits, and quickly earned an associate’s degree. Married to a Marine, we lived in South Carolina, New Orleans, Japan, and California. It was while pursuing my bachelor degree in Business and Supply Chain Management that I began working at the University of Maryland University College as a field representative. This was my first job working in higher education and the experience that shaped my decision to continue that career path. I found tremendous purpose in assisting other active duty and veterans to pursue higher education. As a first-generation college student and facing many challenges to accessing colleges and universities, I felt very connected to the students I was working with.

My next adventure was working for Marine Corps Community Services in the Education Office. I developed the technical skills for education including testing, advising, and curriculum development. There, I was recognized for leadership and able to set precedence on a number of initiatives still in place. When I was had my son, I took a year and a half off to be at home and support my husband as a Drill Instructor. Volunteering and working with the spouse programs kept me very engaged until a former colleague reached out to me about a position with San Diego State University as an Academic Advisor for Wounded, Ill, and Injured active duty Marines on the West Coast. It was an amazing opportunity that launched my career in higher education for military-connected students. In my time there, I worked with 800 transitioning Marines to schools across the country. Additionally, I was nominated for the Outstanding Academic Advisor award, received the Presidential Leadership Award, and started the Women Veteran Success Program.

I spent 3 years with SDSU before being considered for my current position as the Director of Military and Veterans Program for the University of San Diego. From this position, I am able to have tremendous impact locally for military and veterans pursuing colleges and universities. Not only are we able to offer high level of education to our military-connected population on campus, but we work as an anchor institution to assist in any education pursuits they might have.

Outside of my paid position, I also volunteer and work directly with organizations nationwide to promote and support veterans. My passion for lifelong learning, both in and out of the classroom, dedication to fellow military-connected students, and my ambitious nature instilled by the Marine Corps is what has gotten me to where I am.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road has not been smooth. Like most veterans, I have faced many challenges and struggles along the way, both personally and professionally. In the military, we are taught that failure is not an option. That is a mindset that I value, but no longer practice. I have read in the past that FAIL stands for First Attempt in Learning. After transitioning out of the Marine Corps, there were a number of times I felt like I had failed. Whether it was interviews where I didn’t get the job, college courses I didn’t get an A in, or basic life skills that I had just not mastered. Because I had developed such a high standard for myself, transition came with some unexpected feelings of failure, and I struggled to find my purpose again.

I am now divorced and a single mother of 2. My personal life has felt like it was in shambles a number of times. Professionally, there were times when I felt I should have gotten positions I was well qualified for. Two years ago, I started a non-profit program that was thriving, but ultimately ended up not being sustainable. To many people these look like failures, however this is not the way I perceive my experiences. If you don’t fail, or are afraid to try, you will never know what might have been. Failure is a natural part of learning. Once I learned this lesson and was able to effectively deal with failure and obstacles in life, I became a stronger person.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with your business – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
In my position at the University of San Diego, I oversee the Military and Veterans Program. There are approximately 770 military-connected students on campus and about 460 utilizing VA education and training benefits. We provide student-focused services to all USD military-connected students, from their initial consideration of higher education, through their educational journey, and into their career paths and alumni status. We also communicate the value that our military population brings to the campus and the greater community, in turn we counter negative stereotyping.

USD Military and Veterans Program is also committed to being an anchor institution for veterans as they transition into education. We are actively engaged on a local and national level to encourage the pursuit of higher education for the veteran community. Some areas that I am specifically focused on and engaged in is accessing higher education, academic success models, women veteran initiatives, and workforce development for student veterans.

What sets us apart is our very student-centered, individual approach to working with military-connected. USD has a Culture of Care embedded in the university that sets a precedence for the work that we do. It is about listening to the voices of students and ensuring that they feel like they matter. This is now my approach as an individual and the perspective I have in working with others. I am very proud to be a part of an institution that aligns with my own personal values and of the work that we do.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well positioned for?
Women have come a long way in dealing with challenges and facing adversity in the past few decades. Social justice issues are a prominent topic today and I am glad that these necessary conversations are being had. I try not to allow my gender get in the way of opportunities. It takes strong women to unlearn what they have been taught and what has been instilled in them to break barriers and glass ceilings. There is still work to be done, but I don’t let the hard work and resistance keep me from trying. Women have not been seen as strong leaders, but that idea has been proven wrong. We were not supposed to be able to fight for our country in the same way, but now we are. There are so many ideas that society has ingrained in us who we should be and I encourage women to rethink who they are, find their personal strengths, and be fearless. Women have become proven leaders in our society. I think that a strong feminine, empathetic approach is a very valuable trait in leadership.

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Amanda Etter

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