NASPA Member Spotlight: Ashley Carter

NASPA Member Spotlight: Ashley Carter, football fan (Go Steelers! Go Hokies!), graduate student, and future Vice President of Student Affairs.

Tune in each month as we feature individual and institutional members.  Our members will share their experiences in the field, and their personal and professional accomplishments.  Is there a NASPA school or individual member who you think deserves a spotlight?  Email us at [email protected].

This month, we are excited to have Graduate Student Affiliate members and NUFP alum Ashley Carter. Ashley is a full-time graduate student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VA Tech) and Graduate Advisor for the Black Student Alliance at VA Tech. Let’s hear about her student affairs journey, her involvement with NASPA and other professional organizations and how they have shaped her as a professional, some of her most memorably moments on campus, and her advice for those interested in a career and graduate studies in student affairs/higher education.

Tell us more about yourself!  What is your background and what made you pursue a Master’s in Higher Education?

I received my Associates degree in Social Sciences and my Bachelors in Kinesiology.  Initially, I was going to go to physical therapy school. While at George Mason University for my undergraduate degree I became an orientation leader in the summer of 2013 and that changed the game for me. After that summer, I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in higher education. I also continued to learn about student affairs and student activities at George Masson where I also worked as an Student Programs Coordinator within the Office of Orientation, Family Programs and Services.

What personal and professional goals do you plan to achieve this spring?

This spring the most exciting personal and academic goal that I plan to achieve is wrapping up my Master’s in Higher Education Administration at Virginia Tech. Additionally, I plan to continue growing my community within student activities (NACA) as that is the functional area that I hope (fingers crossed) to work in. This summer, I am participating as a staff member at the NACA Concert Management Institute. In the future, I plan to continue my involvement both within my functional area organization and within NASPA.

What are some challenges that have shaped you professionally and or personally?

One of the biggest challenges that I faced personally and professionally was moving away from home for graduate school. I have lived with my family and completed both my Associate's and Bachelor’s degrees at colleges close to home and that provided me with an amazing support system. Moving away from home was really difficult for me because my daily support was no longer easily accessible to me. After beginning grad school, I realized they were still there, they just weren’t physically there

Ashley, tell us why are you so good at your job?

This is tough for me to answer but I would say that I’m good at my job because I care. I am intentional about building relationships with my students and colleagues that are genuine and authentic. Building these relationships are vital to my work life because I want my students and colleagues to know that I am here for them and that I care about them not only as employees but also as people.

As a graduate student and a graduate advisor, how are you balancing your school work and the needs of the students you serve?

Time management in graduate school has been tough but I balance school and work by creating a list of tasks and prioritizing that. I’m also very aware of when my students are more likely to be in my office suite working so I try to use that time to dedicate to working and spending time with them. When they are not in the office, I use that time to get my work done. As far as school goes, I have an electronic calendar that I use to schedule intentional study/reading time. It’s not always easy, but I am intentional about scheduling time for myself at least once a week. That helps me stay sane.

The student affairs profession is constantly changing. What are some key issues in our profession that you would like to see change or evolve?

One of the key issues that I would like to see change is more representation of African-American women within the profession. Representation matters! We’re here in the field and present but that’s not always known. I would like the field to help shine a light on the wonderful African-American women in this profession and the amazing work that we do!

I would also like to see the profession take more of a stance of wellness, particularly mental, physical and emotional wellness. We always talk about balance and health, but do we actually practice what we preach? I’d like to see the field continue to shine a light on wellness holistically, and promote ways on how we can best support each other as professionals on this journey. Another issue that is threatening our profession is money. Institutions are charged with serving larger populations with less and less funding. The work we do is just as valuable as our colleagues in academic affairs and I’d like to see more colleges and universities acknowledge our work and work with us instead of cutting our budgets.

You have had a chance to live and work around the country and at many different campuses. What have been your most memorable moments?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have many memorable moments, but here are my top 3! 

1. Being the point person on my first major concert at Virginia Tech!

In the spring of 2017, the Virginia Tech Program Board hosted Big Sean on campus for our spring concert. Being in charge of an event and having students and professional staff rely on you is a lot of pressure, but also really exhilarating! While the concert was incredible, the events leading up to the show on the day of the event were less than desirable.  The day started out rough, but by the end of it, the concert was awesome and the students and staff had come together in a way that I don’t think had previously happened before. On this day, I discovered that I possessed more than adequate knowledge to execute a major event and that my students, my supervisor and the professional staff in the office I work for truly had my back no matter what. That day I proved I was a lot stronger than I previously believed that I was. Being a part of that is something I’ll never forget.

2. Interning at the University of Central Florida as a NODA intern

That experience challenged me to grow both personally and professionally but I had an awesome team of interns and students who supported me on that journey. It made me sad to leave at the end of the summer. Watching the students grow and develop as human beings and grow in their confidence as orientation leaders and prominent figures in the UCF community was an incredible experience for me! Many of them still keep in contact with me to this day!

3. My number 3 moment was during Virginia Tech’s First Black Excellence Gala. One of my students won an award (Ms. Black VT) and came up to me afterward and thanked me for being the big sister and mom that she never had. I was a mess of tears after that!

Describe or design your dream job in higher education?

My dream job in higher education would be working as a Vice President of Student Affairs who works with students on leadership development. I want to be a VPSA with access to work with students on leadership development and wellness.

You are currently living in Blacksburg, VA.  What has been the biggest difference from this campus experience vs George Mason University?

The biggest difference between the two campuses are the buildings and campus structure. George Mason is set up like Washington D.C. – it’s a circle and everything revolves along the circle. At VA Tech, the campus extends beyond the drill field, which is the center of campus. Another difference is that buildings at Mason are a lot newer than VT but I love the look of the Hokie Stone on VT’s campus! 

How do you see yourself continuing to be an engaged member of the Student Affairs community? How will your engagement with NASPA evolve as you grow with the profession?

Since I truly got my start in the field within NASPA, I already know I will be a lifelong member. As I continue on in my career, I would like to serve on a regional board again in the future, as well as chair a regional and national conference.  

So, real talk, what college football team do you root for? 

For real, for real, I love professional football much more than college football (Go Steelers!) but if I have to choose a college team, I’m rooting for my H-O-K-I-E-S hokies!! 

Fill in the blank: "Oh, here comes Ashley. [Preferred gender pronoun]'s a real ___________."

 “Oh, here comes Ashley. She’s a real genuine, fun-loving, sometimes sassy person.”

You have studied and lived on the east coast for a good part of your career.  What are some differences between how Student Affairs staff operate in the difference campuses you have studied or worked at? 

One of the major differences that I noticed working in Student Affairs in Northern Virginia at a relatively young university (George Mason <100 years old) versus Texas A&M (>100 years old) is that GMU did not have many traditions and the professionals on campus were consistently challenging students to change things up and make processes and procedures their own. At Texas A&M, the institution is rooted deeply in tradition and as such, innovation works differently there. I’ve found the same to be true at Virginia Tech in terms of traditions. However, during my time at VT, I have begun to see a shift in policies and procedures and as such I’m excited to see how the university works on reinventing and rebranding itself in the future.

Are you currently engaged in any knowledge communities with NASPA or other communities in higher education? How have these helped guide you both in your graduate program and your professional work?

Yes, within NASPA, I’m a member of the African American Knowledge Community (AAKC). Outside of NASPA, I’m a member of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) and the Association for Orientation Transition and Retention (NODA). All of these organizations have been instrumental in shaping me to be the young professional that I am today. I was involved in NASPA and NODA prior to graduate school and became a member of NACA during my first semester of grad school. These organizations have provided me with excellent professional development opportunities including summer and conference internships, presenting at both the regional and national level and expanding my network and support system within higher education. The relationships I’ve built and the opportunities I’ve had helped me expand my comfort zone, challenged me to think outside of the box and forced me to step up my game. Without them, I know I would not feel ready to jump into a full-time role in this field.

What is the best advice you can give to someone who wants to consider a graduate degree in Higher Education?

The best piece of advice that I can give is to understand that this field is not about you; it’s about the work you do helping others. This field is extremely selfless, but so immensely rewarding! When looking at graduate programs, be thorough in your search and ask questions! You’ll never know if you don’t ask and seek out opportunities.