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Recent USF Alumna Establishes $20,000 Scholarship

By Lindsay Ederheimer

Ashley Washington speaks to a class full of Corporate Mentor students.

Ashley Washington speaks to a class full of Corporate Mentor students.

Some people find success by chance. Some people find it by choice. Some people, like USF grad Ashley Washington, find it with a little bit of both.

In light of her career success, the 25-year-old is the youngest alumna to fully fund a business scholarship on her own. What began as a $5,000 gift by Washington – the first in her family to attend college - has quickly blossomed. Her employer matched the donation, as did the state, through the First Generation Scholarship program, enhancing the scholarship's value to $20,000.

When Goldman Sachs came to USF in 2010 to recruit students for its summer internship program, Washington had no plans to attend the event. In fact, she didn't even know it was happening.

"The only reason I ended up meeting with Goldman Sachs that day was because I was already wearing a suit," Washington said. "If not, I probably wouldn't have gone."

A sophomore at the time, Washington impressed Goldman Sachs so much that she was invited for an interview in New York City. There, she accepted a summer internship position in the Controller's Department of the Finance Division at Goldman Sachs. In pursuit of a finance degree, Washington was ecstatic about this opportunity.

"When I first started at Goldman Sachs, I thought to myself: I want to go as high up as I can," Washington said. "I could see myself working there forever."

Earning her degree in just two and a half years, Washington took on a heavy course load, sometimes 27 credits in a semester, to avoid long-term financial woes. She also received some scholarship assistance from USF. A focused student with an entrepreneurial attitude, she was eager to graduate early and work professionally.

The 2011 graduate is five years into her role at Goldman Sachs as an associate and financial investment professional. She has lived in New York City, Chicago, and as of now, West Palm Beach. She is on track to become a private wealth advisor; her long-term aspirations are to work with ultra high net-worth individuals to preserve their capital and grow their wealth.

"My professional career has progressed fairly quickly," Washington said. "As I've worked at Goldman Sachs, I've gained more perspective about the real world. They encourage a healthy work life balance, and I want to embrace that."

With her finance career underway, Washington knew she wanted to give back to the community that shaped her.

"I started to think to myself, everything personally is going okay, my family is healthy, my career is going well. What else can I focus on?" Washington said. "I wanted to create a culture of giving back, and USF is the perfect place to do it."

Although it may seem surprising now, Washington's journey to USF was not an easy one. Born and raised in Tampa, and before even stepping foot on USF campus, Washington dreamed of attending the University of Miami. Although she was always a bright student growing up, she sometimes lacked motivation.

"During my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I didn't take school that seriously, and my grades reflected that," Washington said. "But once I realized that I may not be able to go to the University of Miami, or any university, for that matter, I knew I had to step it up."

And she did. Washington received a 4.0 every semester during her junior and senior year of high school. Knowing the University of Miami may be out of the question, Washington applied to USF, hoping to attend school close to home. However, she was disappointed when the letter came that she was not accepted.

"I took the rejection letter from USF, walked into the admissions office, and set up an appointment with the person that wrote me the letter," Washington said. "I explained to him that I would be the hardest working student he'd ever seen if I was accepted."

Washington's passionate plea convinced the admissions counselor to accept her to USF if she completed a summer session. Elated to finally be attending college, Washington worked two jobs that summer to help cover tuition costs.

Once she was at USF, Washington began to transform into the driven and hardworking individual she is today. She traveled to Dubai on a 10-day trip in 2010 as a delegate for Education Without Borders, a non-governmental organization that aims to solve world issues. Her proposal to the program suggested how mentorship to children in third world countries could help improve education in undeveloped nations.

Washington also joined the Corporate Mentor Program, where Dennis Zank, the chief operating officer of Raymond James Financial, mentored her. He taught her lessons about success and perspective.

"Dennis exemplified humility," Washington said. "Through his words and actions he showed me that it doesn't matter your ranking at work or how much money you make; it doesn't make you better or more valuable than other people."

Brian Lamb, president of Fifth Third Bank for the northern Florida region, also mentored Washington.

"I met Brian and instantly realized that his life is a model for how I want to live in 10 years," Washington said. "His talent, intelligence, and generosity inspired me. He taught me to be strategic in my decision making and to have the courage to stop and start tasks when necessary."

Lamb has established scholarships to first-generation students in the Muma College of Business, one of which was awarded to Washington.

"At one point, I was working four jobs to pay for college, since my family couldn't provide a lot financially," Washington said. "The scholarship allowed me to let go of some of them and focus on my academics. I'd like to be able to have the same effect on students going through similar struggles."

Following in her mentor's footsteps, Washington hopes that her $10,000 scholarship will make a difference for a student just like her.

"I am by no means the most wealthy alumna at USF," Washington said. "I'd bet I'm not even in the top half. But if the average student graduating with a $50,000 a year job could start by giving $1,200 a year. That's $100 a month, $20 a week."

"I can give up some of the luxuries I spend money on even just to cover books for a student," Washington added.

Washington says the greatest gift she got out of USF is the relationships she built and the time she spent with her mentors. They set the bar high, she says, and she'd like to be that mentor for someone else.

"By starting this scholarship, I want to create a circle of goodness and a culture that allows students to have a better chance at success," Washington said. "I had to start with myself."