Girl #9 – Amber Manuwa, Los Angeles

I did not mean to interview Amber when we brunched at The Hive this spring. We met in Santa Monica to catch up and see each other before she moved to Montgomery, Alabama.  So we sat there, one of my favorite places, enjoying our açaí bowls and each other’s company. We talked about whatever, anything and everything, but in part, we talked about her impending life change. As we chatted and I learned more about what she was set to do, I realized I must share her story.

I have known Amber for most of my life—since we were eight years old. We grew up together and managed to stay in touch as we attended different high schools and colleges. She’s an adorable Filipino, with thick hair always styled just right, who is in constant pursuit of kickboxing and crossfit workouts.

Amber recently joined the United States Air Force. When I first heard the news, I imagined her sitting behind a desk, doing some sort of administrative and/or intellectual work. Little did I know that Amber intended to be inside an airplane.

Apparently, Amber has always wanted to do this. Although she initially did not pursue this path, she always had the desire to do so. After a number of successful years in a vastly different profession, she decided to listen to her heart.

Amber graduated from the University of San Francisco with a B.A. in Architecture and Community Design and a minor in Environmental Studies. Following graduation, Amber wanted to explore all possible career options available to her by virtue of her architecture degree, but knew she did not want to work at an architecture firm. After considering work in set design, game design, and the California Coastal Commission, she ultimately decided to focus on acquiring a position that would allow her to use her environmental studies minor as well.

Thus, from 2012 to 2014, Amber worked in the Geographical Information Systems field. With these positions, she used the ArcGIS application to create maps focusing on environmental monitoring sites for cities, zoning, and land use. She collected data on the environmental impact storm drain systems have on the Los Angeles River and other water systems in LA. She also worked for arborists during this time, helping maintain GIS databases for cities and universities in which they surveyed the trees.

After years of field work, Amber started consulting for the Irvine Company as a GIS Field Analyst. She visited retail properties to collect information on their utility systems for input into a GIS application for everyone to easily access. The Irvine Company knew she had worked in AutoCAD (an architectural drafting program) and asked if she wanted to interview for a full-time position in their Tenant Coordination Department. The shoe fit. The Irvine Company hired her and she worked on maintaining their entire retail CAD database, producing plans and mock-up drawings for in-house use.

Despite her steady professional progression, Amber acknowledged that sitting at a desk all day every day was not fulfilling her. Deciding she had reached a “now or never” moment, in August of 2016 she reached out to the Air Force.

Amber will soon be leaving for Officer Training School. Her official position is “Combat Systems Officer,” (which means she will be in a plane).

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Açaí bowls nearly finished, Amber mentioned having run the LA Marathon this year. What? Yes, she said, it was a last-minute thing. She hadn’t trained or planned on running it this year, but her mother’s nonprofit had an extra spot and offered it to her. Lucky for them, for the past two years Amber has been living in accord with the teachings of Shonda Rhimes in A Year of Yes.

I know her mom is a little nervous about her entry to the Air Force, but I trust Amber will be A-OK.

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