Everyone Needs a PAL: COMPASS Mentor Program Allows Alumna to Give Back

Woman works in a government contractor building
Why is B.S. in Engineering graduate Amanda Branton smiling? Because she loves her job as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Navy and her ongoing work as a mentor in the COMPASS program. (Photo: Amanda Branton)

The role of a trusted guide and confidant is often vital to success, as one Eagle alumna’s journey from mentee to mentor vividly illustrates.

While Amanda Branton (’23) was driven and determined to earn her B.S. in Engineering degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Worldwide Campus, she ultimately came to a point where she needed a lifeline.

Setting a New Course With COMPASS

The lifeline came from the COMPASS Research Mentorship Program and Dr. Debra Bourdeau, an Associate Professor at the Worldwide College of Arts & Sciences and Associate Dean for Academics and Student Success.

“She was exactly what I needed,” said Amanda, who now works at the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command in Lemoore, California. “She pushed me to get through some courses that were really hard.”

Dr. Bourdeau also left a lasting impression on Amanda, who embraced the COMPASS program offered through the College of Arts and Sciences. Amanda went on to become a Peer and Alumni Leader (PAL) mentor, a role that today sees her working with several Worldwide Campus students.

Amanda Branton
B.S. in Engineering graduate Amanda Branton is the first woman to earn the title of Electronic Industrial Controls Mechanic at the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command.
“I like helping them and pushing them through things,” said Amanda, who originally joined the COMPASS program as a mentee in 2021 and became a PAL mentor in 2023. “All of my students are women, and that’s great because they are all in STEM programs.”

Like being a mentee, serving as a COMPASS mentor is not a one-way street.

“I get so much from my mentees, even if it has nothing to do with their college work,” Amanda said. “I get so much from their personalities and how they get through the stressful parts of their classes and their jobs. I learn a lot.”

Sharing experience, support and hope is foundational for mentoring in COMPASS, which offers four “headings” of participation, including Cohort, Research and Individual mentorship programs, and the PAL mentorship program, all designed to help students “Navigate Forward.”

And students are not limited by degree program, being an undergraduate or graduate, or even by campus — any student can apply.

“While the foundation of COMPASS is to provide an example and guide to the world in and beyond the student’s educational journey, enabling them to better navigate through their challenges, the mentors often learn from the mentees as well,” stated J. R. Hanamean, Director of COMPASS. “Amanda is a great example of that.”

Why Choose an Engineering Degree from Embry-Riddle Worldwide?

Amanda’s course toward COMPASS started in 2014 after she left a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, where she served as an aviation electrician's mate working on the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet.

She got married, and her husband was still on active duty in the Navy, so Amanda focused on raising the couple’s two children as the pair moved from one duty station to another.

During 2017 and 2018, her husband was part of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels maintenance team, and Amanda served as the Blue Angel Family Association Treasurer, organizing events and helping the families of squadron members who spent most of their time on the road.

By 2019, Amanda was ready to turn her passion for engineering into a profession. And she turned to Embry-Riddle for several reasons.

“I had heard of Embry-Riddle while I was in the service, and I knew the school was respected,” she said. “What I was also looking for was an accredited online engineering degree program, and that’s what I got at Embry-Riddle.”

The Engineering program at the Worldwide Campus which Amanda pursued is accredited by ABET — the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology—and is a prestigious and industry-respected recognition.

She was immediately impressed with her classes and, especially, the quality of the faculty and their willingness to share their knowledge and expertise.

“I loved all of my professors,” Amanda said.

How COMPASS Helps Open Doors to Opportunity

However, her struggle in one particular class—Statics—put Amanda firmly on the path toward COMPASS.

“I almost quit; it was so hard,” she said. “I just kept pushing through, and I made it, but I had so much trouble with that class.”

Not long after that close call, Amanda was taking a class with Ryan Goyings,

Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Worldwide College of Aviation, one of Amanda’s favorite faculty members.

“Professor Goyings told the class about some student research programs we could get involved in, and I started looking through them,” said Amanda.

Research Work Leads to a Key Connection

That’s when she spotted a project headed by Dr. Emily Faulconer and Dr. Beverly Wood. The two associate professors from the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology in the College of Arts & Sciences were studying what pushed people to drop out of online STEM programs.

“I was immediately interested. The subject hit really close to home,” Amanda said. “So, I reached out, and they were both happy to include me in the project. They made it really comfortable for me to come forward when I had questions.”

She helped collect, analyze and refine data and presented the project during Embry-Riddle’s Fall Student Symposium in 2022.

“I learned so much from that,” Amanda said. “I saw how the research process worked and how it was conducted and discovered more about requesting funding and ethically collecting data from human subjects.”

Perhaps just as important as the critical research skills was connecting with Dr. Bourdeau, who served as Amanda’s COMPASS Research Mentor.

Dr. Bourdeau is also a leader in Humanistic STEM (H-STEM), which blends “the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with interest in, and concern for, human affairs, welfare, values or culture.”

“Dr. Bourdeau was perfect for me,” Amanda said. “When there were days that I was stressed and didn’t feel like talking, she would share her experiences with me, and I got to learn about all she’s done and about H-STEM. That was nice because sometimes when you're stressed out, you want to hear how other people succeeded, and it gives you hope.”

Her experience as a mentee got her excited about the opportunity to give back through the PAL program, and Dr. Bourdeau encouraged her to get involved.

“It’s all planned out and easy to follow,” Amanda said, referring to the mentoring structure and training used in the PAL program. “I love doing it.”

Amanda also loves the job she landed with her Engineering degree. As an Electronic Industrial Controls Mechanic, she’s responsible for the care and maintenance of highly complex Environmental Monitoring and Control Systems at Naval Air Station Lemoore.

“I am the first woman to hold that job title,” she said. “And it's so cool because this base was built in the 1950s, and so a lot of the stuff hasn't been updated, so we’re doing a lot of that now. We're pulling all these lines out of the ground and replacing them, and it gives me a lot of overtime because we have to do it at night when everybody's asleep.”

Among many other things, Amanda’s involvement in COMPASS taught her critical skills that she uses at work every day.

“I have more confidence and the ability to effectively communicate, which has helped me at my current occupation where I constantly communicate with superiors and my subordinates,” she said. “I am also not afraid to ask questions about things if I don’t understand them at first because that’s how you learn.”

Building a Foundation for Future Success

When she looks ahead, Amanda is excited to continue growing in her work as a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) programmer and see where this rapidly growing engineering field will take her.

When she looks back, Amanda is grateful for her education at Embry-Riddle Worldwide, her experiences as a published undergraduate researcher, and a writer with a short story appearing in Embry-Riddle’s online literary magazine, Night Flight.

“I learned so much about doing research, time management and communication, especially when it comes to writing emails and not being afraid to ask questions,” she said. “I felt very well-prepared for the next steps in my career.”

Of course, Amanda is also grateful for the experiences she continues to have as part of the COMPASS program.

“I love it,” she said. “My mentees are all really smart and ask really good questions, and it’s great that I can help them. I recommended the COMPASS Program to every person I talked to in my classes. And as a current mentor for the COMPASS PAL program, I encourage my mentees to recommend it to their peers as well.”