EPIC Spotlight: Dahlia Ashford

Dahlia Ashford couldn’t bring herself to ask her parents for money so she could continue her college education. Determined, Ashford got to work searching for scholarships, grants and programs. “I would apply for anything and everything,” she says.

She secured the funding.

Now, with a master’s degree to boot, Ashford graduated without any college debt. She wants to show other students that it’s possible for them as well. “I just hate to hear people say, ‘I have got to pay back my loans,’” Ashford says.

This is one of the many missions she has as the newly appointed Academic Outreach Specialist for the University of Arkansas. She splits her time between the Sam M. Walton College of Business’ Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the university’s College Access Initiative with Diversity Affairs.

There are opportunities for everyone here.

Ashford is staying busy in her new role. She goes on recruiting trips to cities in the region, such as West Memphis, Pine Bluff and Forrest City. When she visits high schools, Ashford help prospective students prepare for college, such as helping them raise their ACT scores.

She also helps current U of A students by matching them with internships and study abroad opportunities. Ashford recently took students in Walton College’s Business Leadership Academy to Tyson Foods Inc. headquarters in Springdale, where they participated in sensory studies and visited test kitchens.

Many of the students Ashford meet come from small towns – something to which Ashford can relate. She says she tries to help them “find their footing” as they go through the higher education process.

Ashford earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Mississippi State University followed by a master of science degree in College Student Personnel Services and Administration at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. The latter degree stemmed from her desire to work in student affairs, especially after becoming active with campus organizations as an undergraduate. She was a residence assistant at Mississippi State for three years, followed by two years as a program coordinator in housing at UCA. “I said to myself, ‘I think I can put my knowledge to work and help other students,’” she says.

She did just that by serving as residence hall coordinator at Eastern Kentucky University and residence hall director at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Having grown up in Moss Point, Miss., Ashford had lived in Arkansas once before. She says she was aware of the University of Arkansas’ reputation for outstanding academics. A billboard, however, promoting the University of Arkansas while she was driving east on Interstate 40 in Marianna made quite an impression. It suggested the university is a friendly place. She found that to be true. “Everybody I’ve met has just been extra, extra nice,” she says.

Ashford is enjoying the amenities of living in a university town, such as getting to see former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak on campus. She also finds Northwest Arkansas to be a safe and easy place to get around.

All of this serves as inspiration to encourage students to give the University of Arkansas a try. “There are opportunities for everyone here,” she says.