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Employee's kid finds more than she expected at UofL

by UofL Today last modified Dec 16, 2010 08:27 PM

Ashley Harris packed a lot into her last four years at the University of Louisville.

Employee's kid finds more than she expected at UofL

Ashley Harris

She traveled the world as a recipient of the Boren Scholarship, the Critical Languages Scholarship, and as an Honor's Scholar.

She worked on campaigns for politicians like Hillary Clinton.

As a UofL student, she majored in political science, minored in English, and participated in such campus activities as Sigma Kappa sorority and intramural sports.

On Thursday, Harris, of Louisville, graduated among a group of about 700 during commencement exercises at the KFC Yum! Center. Harris was the student commencement speaker during the ceremony.

UofL Today caught up with Harris to talk about why she chose UofL, her studies abroad and what's next in her life.

Q. What made you initially choose to attend UofL?

A. I actually started at Centre. I was recruited to play volleyball. My sister passed away my freshman year, and I decided I needed to be with my family. My dad and mom live in Louisville, my dad actually works at UofL (Mike Harris, Speed School of Engineering). I ended up transferring home to U of L. In the end it was a much better decision. The University of Louisville has been a great fit for my needs as a student, and since my dad works at UofL, I get tuition remission. I would have graduated with a lot of debt had I continued at Centre. Now, I'm graduating with no debt. That's a really great thing.

Q. At UofL, you participated in several programs overseas. What you made you interested in studying abroad?

A. I've always been interested in politics but global politics came about when I was at Centre. I traveled to Poland while I was at Centre. When I met Israelis while I was there, I found that I was really interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I started studying the Middle East, and it turned out to be important in domestic politics and international relations. I went to Israel on my own in 2007, just me and my roommate decided to go. She studied Hebrew and I took an Israeli politics course. In 2008, I got the Critical Languages Scholarship from the State Department which sent me to Jordan to study Arabic. In 2009-2010, I was in Israel on the Boren scholarship for the year, studying Hebrew and international law and relations.

Q. What did you gain from those experiences?

A. I grew up in Shively, and other than the time I lived in Danville, I've always lived in Louisville. Louisville itself is pretty diverse, but Shively is your pretty typical suburban American home. Going to Poland early in studies was great. I got to see a part of the world I'd never seen and got interested in the things that were happening beyond my backyard. Going to Israel and Jordan was great because I studied international relations. It's really easy to read things in a book or have your professors tell you something, but it's an entirely different situation when you get to see the world for yourself. I lived right on the border of the West Bank in Israel. I lived in East Jerusalem. I saw things both times I was there that I had read about and seen on CNN that I never really understood. I still don't understand it, but I understand it better having been there.

Q. What's been one of your favorite experiences at UofL?

A. One of the most surprising things about UofL has been the Honors Program. I talk about them wherever I go. I coached volleyball to 13 years olds for while when I came back to Louisville. I kept telling them they needed to look at UofL and the Honors Program. It's provided a unique and fantastic program to students. There are great advisers over there.

I have a ton of hours. If you saw how many hours I have you'd probably cry. From traveling abroad and from Centre, and from AP and UofL, I probably have more than enough to have acquired two degrees. I have over 200 hours. I had two advisers, Missy and Tony, they knew my entire schedule while I was UofL and all of the classes I'd accrued. I could call them and say "to graduate, I really need a business class." They would immediately provide one. I could call them while I was in Israel, while I was in Jordan. The Honors Program was a really great program to work with.

In 2007, the Honor's Program had a seminar on Darwin. As a class of about 14 people, we went to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands to study Darwin and evolution. That's a very unique experience, and something I've never heard of another university of group providing.

Q. What's led to your success?

A. I think definitely my parents. I'm an only child and some parents would definitely be uncomfortable with their only daughter wanting to go out on her own so much. I know they were uncomfortable and I know they worried about me a lot while I was gone, but they never stopped me. They always helped. My parents and grandparents helped me pay for everything that I've done while I've been here.

And the faculty at UofL, particularly the political science department. They've all traveled a lot, and their research is innovative and unique. It provides an example for what their students should aspire to do.

I've had Dr. Michael Fowler I think every semester I've been at UofL - on purpose. He's really an excellent model for a professor, as is his wife, Julie Bunck, who I had as well. Those two, along with Dr. Jasmine Farrier, and Dr. Patricia Condon have helped me with every letter of recommendation and every application. I wouldn't have been able to do anything I've done without those people.

Q. What next for you?

A. I work at law firm right now. I'm doing the political science internship in Frankfort next semester. I'm not doing it for any credit or as a student; I'm just participating. Dr. Jason Gainous is going to set me up with a legislator. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I'll go up and work for them and to see what they do. I've worked on ton of campaigns but I've never worked with them when they were in office. I'm interested to see what they do. I'll do that and work at the law firm.

Next fall, my boyfriend and I will be moving. He's going to start law school in fall 2011. I think I'm going to start in 2012 so I can work a little before.

Q. What will you tell your peers during your commencement speech Thursday night?

A. I think I'm going to spend a lot of the end of the speech thanking people. Again, these people have given so much of their personal time to me. Half of them gave me their home phone numbers. They had to deal with me when they were at work or at home; I'm going to thank them. I think they're more of an interesting story than I am.

In the beginning, I'm going to talk about the choices students make. Choosing to pursue higher education is a great thing, a difficult thing, and I want the students to feel proud of their accomplishments. I've had people who have helped me achieve and make these things tangible, as has every graduating student.

It was unexpected.

I went to Manual High School and my dad has worked (at UofL) for more than 20 years. I've been in UofL's shadow for a really long time. Initially, this made it difficult to look at it as an institution of higher learning, and that's why I went away to Centre. But I came back, and I'm so happy and proud I did.

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