Featured Colleague: Even in a Virtual Environment, Ashley Whitehead Loves to Help Students

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

By Claudia Zequeira

Ashley Whitehead, staff assistant II, knows how to start anew. She did it when she decided to leave her native Long Island, New York, to begin a new life in Florida five years ago, and she did again right after Spring Break 2020, when Valencia College suddenly went from being a mostly face-to-face institution to delivering services online in a matter of days.

“After Spring Break, I went in to work once to get a laptop, and I’ve been working from home since,” said Ashley, who before coronavirus significantly changed our lives, was the pleasant face greeting students at Osceola Campus’ Advising Center.

Today, she still gets to do that, albeit in a more digital environment as part of Valencia College’s new Virtual Answer Center, working largely through Zoom. But the task of gauging students’ needs, asking the right questions and directing them to the right party, be it an advisor or someone who can help with residency, financial aid and enrollment questions, is the same, she said.

“I still get to greet students,” she said. “I see a lot of them on video.” And the level of service has not changed, she said.

Ashley is also involved in the College’s Outbound Call Campaign, which seeks to engage with students who had their classes moved online to offer support.

“I’ve had some really good calls,” said Ashley. “People are happy to have a person reach out to them rather than be expected to find all the answers online.”

By way of example, Ashley shared how she recently assisted a student taking English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses during one of those calls. The student had reached out to the Virtual Answer Center and was frantically trying to get her school work done but did not have a working laptop. “I prioritized her need, and I learned [Valencia] got a laptop for her right away. That was very cool to see.”

Her supervisor, John Britt, director of advising at the Osceola Campus, can attest to her willingness to help and excellent customer service skills.

“Ashley is one of the first faces our students see when they walk into the Advising Center at Osceola Campus. She greets each and every student with a warm welcome and smile, and I know our students appreciate her,” said John. “Additionally, she helps our entire advising team by providing excellent communication and organization to our office. We are so fortunate to have her on our team.”

Her desire to help students, said Ashley, is partly rooted in the fact she herself struggled while in school as she worked two jobs to make ends meet. Because she waited close to a decade to complete a two-year degree after graduating high school, finally earning her Associate in Arts at Valencia in 2018, she feels she is in a unique position to understand students’ plight.

“I root hard for the underdog, the non-traditional student who maybe works full time, has a family at home, has a language barrier and came to this country for a better life, or the one that is coming back to school at an older age,” said Ashley. “Those are the students that I’ve watched cry tears to me, those are the ones I was able to give my advice to as a non-traditional student myself. Getting those students through their first semester or returning semester of college was the most rewarding.”

Ashley, who had a role as a part-time staff assistant for Learning Support, the tutoring area, before working in the Advising Center, said she loves working at Valencia because she can see everyone doing their best to help students.

“I like that everyone cares. From department to department, I haven’t met anyone who truly disliked the work they did. Everyone is committed, caring and passionate,” she said.

The students, too, inspire her in her work every day through their grit and intelligence, she said.

Ashley recounted her interactions with a student, whom she met while the latter was still taking EAP classes and whom she watched grow and blossom academically.

“She’s now done with her EAP and she’s working on those science courses that will guide her along her way to medical school. She’s whip smart, and a girl in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). I love it!”

Ashley is also a living example of the fact Valencia represents opportunity for countless students.

“I really don’t believe I would’ve received my associate degree without the push Valencia gave me as a student or the care Valencia gave me as a staff member,” she said. “It’s not always easy to be in college full time and work too, but I was able to do it here and more importantly, finish here. For that, Valencia will forever have a piece of my heart.”

Today, Ashley is a student at the University of Central Florida, where she hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree in health services administration.

In her free time, Ashley likes to sketch fashion designs, play tennis and take road trips.

“As long as there is gas in my tank, I am on the road searching for a new adventure. Unfortunately, right now, in these trying times of a global pandemic, I don’t get to adventure much. However, once we can come out and have a little normalcy again, I’ll have a place on the map in mind.”

Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.

6 Comments

  • Nicholle Trapp said:

    Hello Ashley!! What an amazing treat to hear how much you enjoy serving students on Osceola Campus and now as a host in our Virtual Answer Center. Thank you for all you do!!

    PMTue, 28 Apr 2020 20:13:37 +0000Tue, 28 Apr 2020 20:13:37 +0000pm20,8:13 pm

    • Ashley Whitehead said:

      Thank you Nicholle! It's been my pleasure.

      AMThu, 30 Apr 2020 11:22:35 +0000Thu, 30 Apr 2020 11:22:35 +0000am20,11:22 am

  • Krystal Barrett said:

    Yeah, Ashley!!! Get it, girl!

    AMWed, 29 Apr 2020 08:19:20 +0000Wed, 29 Apr 2020 08:19:20 +0000am20,8:19 am

    • Ashley M. Whitehead said:

      Thank you Krystal! You're so sweet!

      AMThu, 30 Apr 2020 11:25:46 +0000Thu, 30 Apr 2020 11:25:46 +0000am20,11:25 am

  • Lisa A. Williams said:

    You can not imagine how proud I was to see your smiling face on this article. I am so pleased to have met you via the VAC. As a new employee to Valencia, having only received employment on the Downtown Campus the week of it's Grand Opening in August, it has been amazing to meet the other employees from all the other campuses that I would not have the opportunity to come in contact with accept for the Pandemic. You my friend have been one of those Co-worker that I look forward to working with.

    PMWed, 29 Apr 2020 19:42:38 +0000Wed, 29 Apr 2020 19:42:38 +0000pm20,7:42 pm

    • Ashley M. Whitehead said:

      Thank you Lisa 🙂 I'm so happy we got to meet! You're someone I'm glad to know and can't imagine those Virtual Answer Center shifts without you. This pandemic seems to have brought us a bit of a silver lining, and I'm happier for that part.

      AMThu, 30 Apr 2020 11:30:31 +0000Thu, 30 Apr 2020 11:30:31 +0000am20,11:30 am

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