First-generation alumna gives back with scholarship

USF alumna Ashley Washington,  gave a speech at a Muma College of Business scholarship luncheon. ORACLE PHOTO/MIKI SHINE

Like something out of a university fundraising director’s dreams, a new scholarship was recently funded by none other than a young USF graduate who beat the odds to achieve her dreams.

Ashley Washington, 25, overcame adversity on her path to success and is giving back to the university community in the form of a $20,000 business scholarship.

Her initial donation of $5,000 was matched by her employer, Goldman Sachs, and the First Generation Matching Grant.

A first generation college student herself, Washington said the scholarship is “near and dear” to her heart.

“If there’s any way I can help, which is hopefully what this scholarship does, that’s the first thing I want to do,” she said.

Washington said she hopes the scholarship will allow a student to focus on school instead of trying to juggle classes and a job.

She received a scholarship while she was a junior at USF and said it was game changing.

“(It allowed me to) quit (my job) and focus more on school and learning outside of the classroom,” she said.  “So I wanted to be able to do that with this scholarship and help someone else be able to grow and mature and develop faster.”

Washington is an associate and financial investment professional with Goldman Sachs.  She has worked in the company’s New York City, Chicago and — now — West Palm Beach offices.

“All three roles I’ve done have been different,” she said. “But they’ve all been alike in the sense that it’s giving me more of a specialty in the industry.”

According to an article on the Muma College of Business website, Washington plans to grow with Goldman Sachs and is working toward becoming a private wealth advisor.  She credits her mentors with challenging her to be strategic.

Those mentors include Walter “J.R.” Haworth, director of USF’s Corporate Mentor Program; Brian Lamb, chairman of the USF Board of Trustees and regional president for Fifth Third Bank North Florida; and Dennis Zank, Chief Operating Officer at Raymond James Financial.

Washington said her mentors were essential in helping her establish and develop herself professionally in college.

However, professional development was not something that was on her mind until her junior year of high school.

“I wasn’t doing what I needed to do (my first two years of high school) to get the grades I should have been making,” she said.

Her poor grades during this time reflected on her GPA, and she knew that she would have to give up her dream of applying to the University of Miami.  

Once she realized that, Washington said changed everything.

“(Life) was all about my schoolwork, all about my sports, working was (still) important, but less important,” she said. “It was more of me starting to prioritize.”

By her senior year, she said, she was “starting to take on responsibilities and really understand and really start to get it, for lack of a better word.”

Washington chose USF to pursue her finance degree.  

“By the time it was time to go to college, I was really … ready to keep the momentum going,” she said. “I applied to USF, they politely told me ‘no;’ and I politely asked again if I could come, and I got admitted into summer. And that’s how I got there.”

Washington said she doesn’t like to take ‘no’ for an answer.

“For me, adversity I think always sparks something good in me,” she said. “Someone telling me ‘no’ just gives me more fuel to prove them wrong…that’s a pretty big area of my personality.”

Even though USF wasn’t her first choice, Washington appreciated her experiences at the university.

“Looking back on it, it was one of the best times,” she said.

Washington hopes more students are able to have a productive and career-focused experience at USF as a result of her donation.

“I’ve been the recipient of the generosity of someone else’s time and money, be it a scholarship or mentorship,” she said. “Plus the simple fact that the community … of first generation graduates has statistical probability (for success) that’s far less advanced than their (classmates).  I have to do something.”