Meet 30 year old New York resident and UMass Amherst UWW student Ashley Dale. Winner of a $1250 UWW Jeffrey C. Taylor Scholarship, Ashley talks about fighting her way back, focusing on her studies and achieving her dreams. Her concentration: Human Rights Journalism. Her advisor: Lisa Fontes.
Every non-traditional age student has a story. What’s your story?
I started college when I was 19, but I was paying for it out of my own pocket and couldn't afford to continue. Going to college and earning my degree was something that I have always wanted since I was a little girl. A year ago, I was finally in a place in my life that I felt comfortable enough to go back to school and continue with my studies. I also have a greater appreciation for my education now that I'm older and I know what I really wanted to study - whereas before, I wasn't quite sure. I think it worked out this way because it was supposed to. I am where I am supposed to be in my life.
Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?
I was looking for an accredited university that had a great reputation as well as hands-on staff who cared about the students and their success. I found the University of Massachusetts Amherst while doing searches for a university that would allow me to complete a degree with a focus in journalism completely online. When I found UMass Amherst UWW, I looked into the school, I checked out the website over and over, I read the testimonials from other students, and I asked friends of mine who knew people who graduated from UMass. All the feedback I got was great and I knew that it was meant to be.
What is the best part about being a UWW student for you?
The best part has to be the flexibility. I would never have been able to go back to school full time if I couldn't do it all online. It is harder, but it is also more rewarding. I know that I have the discipline to take on a full time course load every semester as well as in the summer while working full time and volunteering full time. UMass Amherst has made it a breeze even for me who puts in almost 100 hours of work every week - including time for studying.
Well, not only does it mean that I can take the winter course that I need for my degree - it's only offered in the winter - but, it makes me feel so great. I stood out from the rest and it just feels nice to be recognized for all the long hours and hard work I have been putting in. It makes me want to work even harder, if that is even possible : )
What’s been your favorite class at UMass Amherst so far?
Oh wow, I don't know how I can just pick one. I guess Iwould have to say that my favorite class so far has been my Journalism Ethics class with Professor Razvan Sibii. He is an excellent professor and he was just as engaged in the entire class as the students were. It was a huge help knowing that he was always there because it is more difficult not having the in-person classroom setting. The class was a 'heavy' class, meaning there was a lot of reading and information to take in. However, I can honestly say that I learned more in that one class than I have in any other class. And what I learned I will take with me and use in all aspects and areas of my life, not just in my career.
What have been the benefits of taking your classes online?
I am not limited at all in what I need or want to do. I recently took a different job and the fact that I didn't have a static class schedule allowed me to be able to take the opportunity. I also like that I can be anywhere and do my school work and participate in class. I have a lot going on in my life with work, side projects, volunteering, and mentoring that being able to go on at say midnight to do work makes my life a lot easier and my stress level lower.
How do you balance work, school and other responsibilities?
Well, I am fortunate enough to work for a company that represents higher education so they understand the importance of studying hard and getting your degree. But before that, I worked every day until around the same time. I would get home and get right on my computer to check all my classes to see what needed to be done. I would work on school for 8 hours every day after work. On the weekends, I would put in about 10-12 hours both days working on school and studying. Now I am the editor-in-chief of a news-blog focused on social awareness, human rights, education advocacy, and other topics so that takes up a lot of my time (www.bonfireimpact.com). However, in the end school comes first and I make sure everyone knows that.
What advice do you have for other students finishing their degrees?
My advice for others trying to finish their degrees is don't take on too much at first. Feel out one or two classes at first to see how much you can realistically handle. It's not a race. I took on too many classes over the shortened summer semester and I got straight As, but it was NOT easy at all. I learned my lesson. I suggest keeping a separate planner just for school and setting a certain amount of time aside each and every single day or night, whatever works best for your schedule to devote to your studies. Learning to prioritize is key also. Having a great support system or friends and family is also a big factor. They help you stay positive and motivated, you can bounce ideas for your classes off of them, and they can help you study! Keep a school and study schedule and stick to it no matter what!
What are your future plans professionally and personally?
I will graduate with a B.A. from UMass Amherst with a focus in Human Rights Journalism and then I plan to go on to Columbia University (if I can get in) to get my Masters in Human Rights Studies. I ultimately would love to work for a nonprofit like Human Rights Watch and become a human rights researcher for the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). Journalism has always been my passion and I always thought it was a great way to expose injustices in our world. But there is only so much you can do by exposing injustices. I wanted a more hands-on approach to bringing about positive change so I decided I wanted to be a researcher in the field. I will definitely need journalism experience to do that as well! I want to travel, experience new things, understand other cultures, and ultimately I want to help people. I want to be a voice for the voiceless.
Tell readers something cool about yourself that no one would guess about you?
I want to live somewhere in Africa, learn about the cultures and way of life in some of the countries there. My hero is Dan Eldon, the young photojournalist who was murdered in Somalia in 1993 covering the famine and civil war. He is my inspiration.
Please add anything else you want people to know about you, your family, and your story.
I'm engaged and would like to start my own family. I have two younger brothers and an identical twin sister, Heather! Heather and I are best friends and we have a bond that only other sets of twins understand. I struggled a lot when I was younger from various medical issues - open heart surgery at 2 y/o, hernia operation at 4 y/o, back surgery at 16 y/o - I was a gymnast and trained to go to the Olympics, but couldn't because of my back surgery, and I am a recovering alcoholic. I have been sober for a while now and being back in school has kept me focused and determined to not only succeed, but to stay sober and happy. I have my life back after almost 10 years and I can honestly say that it is mostly because of UMass Amherst UWW. I am a fighter and when I know what I want I go after it with everything I've got. I plan to do great things in my life and maybe you'll hear about the good work I'll be doing someday. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it and truly work hard and I can honestly say that I'm living proof of that. It's not easy, but the best things in life are not easy.