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                                                                                                            (By Lisa Garrett)

ANDERSON ---  If Amanda Nicks hadn’t met Social Sciences Department Head Stacey Frank --  by pure happenstance two years ago -- she probably would be beginning a new job as a structural engineer – but she wouldn’t have discovered her passion for psychology and translated it into a lifelong career devoted to people and public service.

Two years ago, Amanda, a Navy veteran and Associate in Science major, was working toward credits to transfer to Clemson University’s Civil/Structural Engineering program.

Stacey, Tri-County’s advisor for the Student Veterans Association, and Amanda met in Patriots’ Place, a veterans center that opened in November 2013 on the Pendleton Campus.  It serves as a one-stop shop for enrollment processes, resources, and a place to study and talk. 

Their initial conversations centered on their military service.  “Just like that, we bonded -- we hit it off instantly. It’s so rare to come across another female veteran who becomes a mentor,” said Amanda.  “There is no other female veteran I have had this type of relationship with,” added Amanda, now 31.

Over time their talks delved more deeply into Amanda’s future career plans.

“Stacey listened to me and talked me through my career pathway,” she remembers. 

A year after being honorably discharged from the Navy, Amanda moved to the area and decided to go back to college to prepare for her dream – architecture.  “I thought I was just taking Associate in Science classes at Tri-County to prepare to transfer to Clemson, but Stacey is the one who helped me figure out I also could graduate with a Tri-County degree. She pulled up my schedule in DegreeWorks and said you have to take two classes and you can graduate (in 2017) with an associate degree.”

At Clemson Amanda enrolled directly into the Civil Engineering program, but the number of intense math courses  -- all required in that very first semester --  gave her pause.  Before the semester began, she talked with Colonel Stahl, “who gave me some good advice – reinforcing what Stacey had said -- do what makes you happy.  I began to really look at what would make me happy,” said Amanda. “I thought about Stacey’s psychology classes at Tri-County, I changed my major to psychology, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

In 2018 she earned a bachelor of Science degree in Psychology (with a minor in Architecture), and this past summer she received a second bachelor’s in Criminal Justice.  After graduating in August, her part-time job as a Legal Advocate (for Oconee and Pickens counties) for Foothills Alliance became a full-time position where she works with sexual violence.

“If I hadn’t met Stacey in Patriots’ Place, I wouldn’t be here today.  Without Tri-County, I would be doing a job --  not having a career.  Tri-County gave me a pathway,” said Amanda.

Stacey is a Marine Corps veteran who retired from the military and worked in emergency services, as a firefighter, and volunteer guardian ad litem, as well as volunteer victim’s advocate for sexual assault and domestic violence, before joining Tri-County in 2014.    

“I never thought I would follow in my mentor’s footsteps,” said Amanda.  Stacey was one of the first she contacted when she was among the 20 accepted into the 2019 Focus Forward Fellowship, which is designed to help women student veterans and service members build skills, leadership, and a sense of community with other like-minded female veterans.

She is the second consecutive student veteran from Clemson to attend the year-long competitive national program conducted by Purdue’s Military and Family Research Institute.

            She attended a four-day residency held in July at Purdue University in Indiana.  After completing the residency, she will engage with her cohorts in an online community during the academic year.

 “It’s intensive and amazing.  We assessed our strengths and how we can work together with our opposing strengths.  It was a very respectful environment where we truly could be ourselves.  A bonus was I feel like I got 25 sisters -- just like that,” she said.

It reminded her of the camaraderie she felt at Patriots Place. “It’s hard for veterans to assimilate into civilian life and even harder for female vets. We speak a different language, and we see the world from a different perspective.  At Tri-County, we shared the same mindset, we were the same age, and we looked out for each other. We know how to help each other if someone is having a bad day.  Patriot’s Place was our refuge,” said Amanda.                         

She entered the military as an E3 because of her previous university credits and started out in Norfolk, VA, and later worked as a Master at Arms and dispatcher for fire and rescue in Chesapeake, Virginia.  She also manned the front desk for the commanding officer. Before a stint in the Bahamas, she was promoted to an E-5 and later transferred duty stations to Jacksonville, Florida, where she worked as a Master at Arms (military police) for the K-9 unit. 

In 2014 her contract was up, and at the same time, security force budget cuts hit the military, and she decided not to re-enlist. 

“When I left the military, I felt like I left my family, but at Tri-County, I again had my brothers and sisters, although in a different and new environment, all having each other’s back as we navigated our new mission of college. It’s not our biological families, but they are equally as important,” said Amanda.

With an associate degree and two bachelor’s under her belt, she is entering USC’s MSW satellite program this fall. 

“I can’t help it – I love to learn,” she said.

“It’s important to Amanda to make a difference in this world,” said Stacey.  “As veterans, we want to help our country, and sometimes it’s difficult for veterans to find our path when we are not in service.  We served our country and the people around us.  We all want to find a different way to do that – as teachers, firemen, police officers, nurses.  Amanda found it in victims’ advocacy.”

“My time at Tri-County was meaningful in many ways,” Amanda said, “mainly because I met Stacey, who was my mentor and now is also my friend.  We may not see each other for months, but we Snapchat, and e-mail and keep up through other veterans.  The communication line is always open.  I’m grateful for Stacey; she is a friend for life and a fellow veteran, but most important, she is family.”