By TYLER ELLYSON
Brandi Mayer celebrated the start of a new semester in a place a world away from the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.
Dressed in Army fatigues, the 28-year-old aviation operations specialist posed for a back-to-school photo at a military base in the Middle East, where she’s currently stationed with the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.
Mayer and nearly 700 other soldiers from the St. Paul-based unit deployed in September as part of Operation Spartan Shield and Operation Inherent Resolve. Their job is to provide helicopter, unmanned aerial system and fixed-wing support for U.S. and coalition forces, including reconnaissance, transportation and medical evacuation, while partnering with active-duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers from several other states.
When Mayer isn’t organizing air mission requests, she’s focusing on her studies as a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Spanish education.
A Spanish teacher and girls basketball coach at Fillmore Central High School in her native Minnesota, Mayer enrolled in UNK’s online Master of Arts in Education program last summer. She’s currently taking her second and third classes while stationed overseas.
Mayer has served in the Army National Guard for nearly five years, and this is her first deployment. The 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade is scheduled to return home this fall.
Why did you enlist in the Army National Guard?
“I enlisted after completing my bachelor’s degree to realize a dream I’ve had since I was about 14 years old. It wasn’t until this time in my life that I was able to make that dream become a reality. My goals in terms of what I want to accomplish within the National Guard have changed since my enlistment, but it has been an experience I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
As a teacher, why is it important to pursue a master’s degree?
“I decided to pursue a master’s degree in Spanish education to better my ability within the Spanish language, as well as to better my ability to educate the students in my classroom. My students mean so much to me, and I want to be the best teacher they could possibly have. I am also very self-driven to be the best I can be at everything I do, and this is one way I am able to better myself.”
How did you learn about UNK’s online master’s program?
“I found the UNK program while doing online research into graduate-level programs. I was specifically looking for a program that would allow a focus in both Spanish and the educational aspect that comes with teaching a foreign language. UNK fit my needs in terms of meeting both desires, as well as offering the flexibility of online classes so I can study wherever life happens to take me.”
What’s it like taking master’s courses while you’re deployed?
“It can be very challenging some days. My military job can be very much like a roller coaster. Some days are just naturally busier than others, depending on the mission. But most days, when I get to sit down in the morning with a cup of coffee or in the evening with a cup of tea, it’s a time when I get to feel like I’m ‘normal’ for an hour or so.”
Why is teaching so important to you?
“I enjoy being a teacher. It’s very hard to pinpoint just one thing about being a teacher and say that’s why I enjoy it. Mostly, I enjoy watching my students be successful, especially when I see them overcome an obstacle they have been chiseling away at for some time. Those ‘aha’ moments that every teacher will tell you about are a real thing, and I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see my students be successful and reach those moments, even if they happen to be in other areas of study such as history, math or English.”
How does your military service benefit your teaching career?
“Currently, my military service is allowing me the funds I need to further my education. Between my federal tuition assistance and my state tuition benefits, I am able to afford to go on for my master’s degree with very little financial burden. I also have a great team I am working with that understands I am studying and they allow me the time to make sure I am successful in my studies as long as I am successful in completing the military mission I am here for first.”