Friday, January 10, 2014

Lifelong learner has no plans to slow his educational journey

LIFELONG LEARNER: Steve Amster has blazed an
educational trail for himself and his family
It’s not always easy to blaze your own trail. But those who do usually end up inspiring those around them to follow their own dreams. That’s the case for Steve Amster, a Peirce College graduate student who was a first-generation college graduate. Steve never gave up on his educational dreams and now he’s inspiring those around him to follow suit.

Steve was born in Philadelphia and grew up in northeast Pennsylvania. He moved to the Collegeville area and graduated from Methacton High School in 1988. He decided to attend Montgomery County Community College, majoring in Business Administration. However, he left school before completing his associate's degree and entered the workforce as a recovery analyst.

Ten years later, Steve had the opportunity to attend Peirce through his job at SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories. He wanted to complete the associate's degree he started so he could move up the ladder and provide a better life for his family. However, after completing a few classes, his company was sold and he wasn’t able to continue toward his degree. His educational dreams were once again placed on the back burner.

But Steve never gave up hope. He came back to Peirce in 2008 to finish what he started and earned his associate's degree. Although he originally set out to earn his degree in Business Administration, his time in the workplace inspired him to change direction. He was interested in software development, so he decided to pursue his associate's degree in Information Technology.

Steve had also become interested in healthcare and wanted to incorporate that passion into his higher education journey. After graduating from Peirce, he went on to Bellevue University to complete his bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Management. But he wasn’t willing to end his educational journey there.

Steve currently works for AmeriHealth Caritas, one of Peirce’s corporate partners. After Peirce gave a presentation about our new graduate degree program in Organizational Leadership & Management at his office, Steve knew it was the right decision to go back and earn his master’s degree. “Four factors helped me make my decision to return to Peirce. One: I wanted to get into a leadership program. Two: I was familiar with the school. Three: Peirce offers a brick and mortar option, and I definitely wanted to have the classroom experience versus learning online for graduate school. And four: my organization offered discounts. These were all major in my decision-making process.”

Steve applied and was accepted into our inaugural class of master’s degree students, beginning his classes in September 2013. “I take being in the first class of graduate students very seriously, and I’m always trying to maintain the highest GPA possible,” he said.

His courses have been rigorous, preparing him to translate what he learns in the classroom to his professional endeavors. “The educators are credentialed and experienced, providing insight to the curriculum and challenging us to learn. It’s well thought out -- how the classes are paired and delivered.”

He has also been encouraged by his classmates, many of whom are professionals in their field and are also looking to take the next step in their careers. “There are many seasoned professionals in the group that I’m taking classes with. Having folks that have been in the workplace ten plus years really adds maturity to the discussions. Everyone has stars in their eyes and everyone has high expectations of what this education will give them.”

Steve has found that this level of camaraderie has given him a leg up in his professional life, allowing him to get answers to the tough questions he can’t ask in the workplace. “There’s a level of competition in the workplace. But when you get to know your peers in the classroom and realize you’re all in the same boat and that it’s safe to be transparent, a wonderful thing happens. You really get insight to other industries, how other people do things, and how others view you or perceive your ideas. It’s that insight that gives you an advantage when you get back out to the workplace.”

Trying to balance his full time job responsibilities and attend classes at night has taught Steve the benefits of time management and dedication to your studies. “It’s been a little bit of a challenge but I’ve been managing it,” he said. “I set rules for myself. When I get home from work, there’s a transition period and then I sit down for at least an hour to an hour and a half at my laptop going over whatever material I need to go over at that time. It adds some structure and it prevents me from getting behind.”

Steve has dreams of moving into a management or leadership position after graduating with his master’s degree. “My current employer has recently initiated an executive leadership program that you have to be selected for,” he said. “So my goal is to be selected for that leadership program. I definitely expect to take my education and say I’m credentialed and I’ve put forth the effort -- Where can I fit in and where can I help the most?”

He also offered some advice for professionals who want to obtain their graduate degree but are nervous about adding more responsibility to their plate. “Do not wait for a perfect opportunity to advance your career or help yourself. The work-life balance is a challenge for everyone. So why not do something that’s going to better you? No one can take your education away from you once you’ve achieved it.”

This is advice many members of his family have taken to heart. “Family members have looked at my courage and thought, ‘If he can do it, I certainly can,’” he said. “Because we all have kids, we all have jobs, and we all want to seek a better opportunity. And we’re all going through the same experience [of pursuing higher education] together.”

Good luck in your classes, Steve, and thanks for sharing your story!