Watkins graduated in May with a degree in special education.

Amber Watkins, a recent graduate of the College of Education majoring in special education, recently received the inaugural outstanding student veteran award. Brennan Beck, assistant director for military and veteran engagement, presented Amber with the award during Clemson’s Student Veteran Hail and Farewell Ceremony.

The award recognizes the commitment, engagement and leadership of one student veteran who has had a remarkable impact on the Clemson Student Veterans Association and Clemson’s veteran services. The award also recognizes admirable leadership and initiative in furthering the association’s goal of creating a veteran-friendly campus at Clemson.

Watkins previously served as a signals analyst in the U.S. Navy, where she served from July 2010 to July 2014. She trained military and civilian personnel, implementing the workplace’s first standardized training plan. Immediately following her time on active duty, Watkins transitioned to the U.S. Navy Reserve where she serves as a petty officer 1st class. Watkins said she was thrilled to receive the award from an organization that has provided her with so much during her time at Clemson.

“Although I was still relatively young when I left active duty and started at Clemson, I had a hard time relating to traditional students,” Watkins said. “I had different life experiences, and the student veterans association was the family I was looking for.”

Watkins planned and participated in numerous veteran initiatives such as the Tigers for the Troops Golf Tournament and Military Appreciation Day Tailgate. She helped the association earn over $10,000 for the Clemson Veteran Scholarship Endowment and lead the association as its first female president.

Watkins said she enjoyed a “moment or two of excitement” upon learning she would be the association’s first female president. However, due to her time in the Navy and current service in the Navy Reserves, Watkins said she was used to being alone or one of few females in a leadership position.

Watkins said any activity that involved the association raising money for the student veteran scholarship endowment was special to her, as she identifies with people who do not have money to attend college upon graduation from high school.

“Events like that strive to give veterans access to the means to further their education,” Watkins said. “Increasing access to education is something I’m very passionate about.”

Now that Watkins is a newly-minted Clemson alumna, she plans to spend her summer in South Carolina before beginning work on a master’s degree in international educational development with a concentration in international policy and planning at Columbia University in New York. She isn’t leaving her passion for improving access to education in Clemson; she hopes to work in policy to get individuals access to education across the globe.