For Amethyst McMaster, her service in the U.S. Army provided lessons that are now helping her in her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree at Polk State College.
She concluded her service in 2020 after six years. She achieved the rank of sergeant and served in special operations, which required her to work in an airborne force of paratroopers.
“I was jumping out of planes, but the funny thing is that I am terrified of heights,” McMaster admitted. “It was very rough and there were several times when I wanted to quit. But those moments when you decide to keep going really test one’s capability to see something through and that’s something I continue to carry with me – that perseverance.”
McMaster was 28 years old and working nights at a WaWa in Maryland when she decided it was time to “change my life for the better.”
“I thought I was too old, but my job hired a retired marine and he challenged me to pursue something greater,” she explained of her decision to enlist. Within a month, she was off to basic training and her new life.
“I was one of those stubborn people who didn’t listen very well, so the military had a lot to offer me,” she added. “The biggest takeaway for me was leadership. A lot of leadership mentored me and as I moved up into leadership roles, I gained experience on how to set goals and prioritize them, and I gained an increased sense of responsibility and the importance of doing the right thing.”
McMaster traveled around the world, from Korea to the Middle East.
“I discovered that the world is actually very small,” she said, “there are good people and bad people no matter where you go. But it increased my appreciation for being here in the U.S.”
“Polk State has been an awesome experience. The process has been very smooth and the degree that I am working on is helping me realize what I need to put in place for the business that I am starting.”
Toward the end of her tenure, she was considered for a promotion to staff sergeant, but she had concerns about potentially needing to be medically discharged due to back problems brought on by her airborne duties. McMaster was stationed at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border when she made the “last-minute” decision to move to Florida to be with her boyfriend.
She was pursuing her higher education through the University of Maryland Global Campus online and achieved her associate degree. She added that coming to Florida provided her with the opportunity and flexibility to continue a degree program in person, her preferred format of learning.
“I was working at WaWa here and an instructor from Polk State came in and said, ‘go apply there, it’s a great college with affordable tuition,’” McMaster said.
McMaster is enrolled in the Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management Program concentrating in Business Administration. She noted that Polk State’s Veterans Services Office and Coordinator Byron Loyd have been helpful in submitting the necessary paperwork for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and GI Bill to help fund her education.
“Polk State has been an awesome experience,” she said. “The process has been very smooth and the degree that I am working on is helping me realize what I need to put in place for the business that I am starting.”
She also reflected on the skills she has gained in the military.
“The ability to balance multiple responsibilities and prioritize my goals have been very beneficial now that I am going to school and starting my own business,” she said. “There are many times when I think ‘man, is this really worth it?’ and then I think about what I have already persevered through and how this degree perfectly aligns with my goal to start my own cleaning business.”
Now she serves as an example for others and offers words of encouragement like the veteran who encouraged her to enlist and the Polk State professor who encouraged her to enroll.
“It’s never too late to turn your life around. People get stuck in one situation and feel like they can’t advance, but you have to keep pushing and persevere.”
“It’s never too late to turn your life around,” McMaster shared. “People get stuck in one situation and feel like they can’t advance, but you have to keep pushing and persevere.”
As Polk State College and the greater community commemorate Veterans Day, McMaster shared what this day means to her.
“It’s a solemn moment of appreciation,” she said. “I feel the appreciation and also solemn for those who are no longer here.”