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Grit and determination: No stopping Kristie Ash, Class of 2020

| Denise Olson

The Blugold Beginnings Program at UW-Eau Claire is an ongoing effort in equity, diversity and inclusion, aimed at inspiring and educating students from underrepresented groups. The main mission of the program is to foster the belief in all students, especially low income and first-generation college students, that the dream of a college degree is important, attainable and available to them. This goal is accomplished through a variety of programming and services for pre-college and enrolled students. 

As we highlight various Blugold graduates during this commencement season, it's important to check in with specialized programs like Blugold Beginnings and hear some of their great graduate success stories. When Blugold Beginnings director Jodi Thessing-Ritter was asked if any spring 2020 graduates stood out in her mind, she immediately had an answer: Kristie Ash.

"Kristie is one of those students who asked lots of questions — she wanted to learn how to maximize her growth as a person while in college, and was always willing to try new things," Thesing-Ritter said. "We tell all of our first-year students to do this, but not everyone does. She hit roadblocks, as we all do, and she worked to overcome them. Kristie asked for help when she needed it, and she persevered. I use the book "GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance" by Angela Duckworth in one of the classes I teach. Kristie embodies the essence of that book and it has been an absolute joy to watch her bring those principles to life as a student and leader at UW-Eau Claire."

Naturally, we wanted to know more about this young woman who stood out so singularly to a director who works with hundreds of students each year. Kristie was kind enough to conduct a socially distant interview and answer the questions we thought would help tell her story. We think her answers hold value and inspiration not only for students like herself who have dealt with issues of race and identity but for all campus and community members who strive to resist racism and inequity in our world. 

Kristie Ash, accounting and information systems double major from Middleton, spring 2020 graduate

Jodi Thesing-Ritter mentioned adversity that you overcame as a student. Can you share with us what aspects of your student and personal journey she is referring to?  

I am adopted from South Korea by white parents and grew up in a predominantly white town and never really considered myself to be South Korean. My parents never really pushed me to find more about my culture and I never really felt the need to learn more about it and accept that part of myself. As a participant in Blugold Beginnings, I got to intentionally create relationships with students and advisors of color who helped me learn more about myself. I remember when the Trump campaign came to campus in 2016, and I still think about the outright racism toward myself and my peers of color. I realized that even though I had been raised by white parents and in a white home, the rest of society views me as Asian. I began embracing my identity and also advocating for myself as a woman of color. Through Jodi, I met Staci Heidtke, Alyssa Slaby and Michelle Shrader in the Advising Retention and Career Center (ARCC). Together we created a career associate liaison position that was aimed specifically at outreach with multicultural students. As I started to progress through college and applied for jobs and internships, I refused to just be part of the diversity statistic for an organization, and I actively began to pursue companies that value intersectionality and inclusion.

Describe the impact that the Blugold Beginnings Program has had on your college career.  

Kristie Ash and friends

Friends for life made in Blugold Beginnings: Charles Tenario, Kristie Ash and Elijah Vanderpoel.

Blugold Beginnings has truly shaped my entire college journey. I made friends from freshman year that I’m still close with today. They gave me so many opportunities to succeed in a multitude of ways and I felt supported every step of the way. Programs like these are especially important because as a minority student it is easy to feel intimidated and fall through the cracks. Blugold Beginnings helps hold students accountable while also giving us opportunities to succeed. I was a Blugold Beginnings intern my second year and it was a great experience. I was able to lead and offer the same support I received during my freshman year. My advice to anyone invited to take part in Blugold Beginnings would be to get involved and just do everything offered. I have been able to make so many connections through Blugold Beginnings and Jodi Thesing-Ritter. I discovered that there are many great people who want to see students succeed and who will go the extra mile for us as advocates and mentors. I also went on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage (CRP), which is something every student should experience, in my opinion. It was no longer an option to ignore our nation’s past and how it still is impacting today's society. Even though I am Asian I still have the privilege of being a “non-threatening person of color," cis-gendered, heterosexual and able-bodied. The CRP was a great reminder to acknowledge the privilege I have and to be an advocate and an ally for those who still are fighting for their rights.  

Who are some of those other people you were able to make connections with on campus? 

Most importantly, Jodi has been a huge supporter of not only me but of every student whom she encounters. She has continually been invested in my success no matter where I was or what I was trying to accomplish. She literally would open her home to us as students to come over and have a meal with her or to take a break from studying and relax. Advisors like Karen Dominguez have also been a source of support. She was my freshman year advisor, and although we weren’t mandated to meet after freshman year, I continually would find myself in her office even if it was just for a minute or two. Blugold Beginnings provides support throughout every step of college and is critical in supporting at-risk students to stay and graduate. It is programs like Blugold Beginnings and individuals like Jodi Thesing-Ritter that keep our campus moving toward the chancellor's goal of reaching a 20% diverse student population.

What campus experiences outside of your classrooms have had a positive impact on your learning? 

I was on the Finance Commission for Student Senate for three years and I learned so much about student government and how funding works. There were 10-12 members each year but the low number of people of color, women or women of color was alarming to me. We were deciding funding for clubs and student organizations and there was a huge lack of diversity at the decision table. This disparity showed me how important programs like Blugold Beginning and offices like the Office of Multicultural Affairs are to campus. They not only help attract students of color, but they continually advocate for us. We need programs like these to have a safe and inclusive campus. I have had other various jobs all over campus, including being a Blugold Beginnings mentor, intramural referee, ARCC liaison and a classroom technician for Learning and Technology Services (LTS). My LTS job has offered great experience and knowledge that will be relevant to my field.

I have had many opportunities to take my learning outside of the classroom. I had my first internship at an accounting firm in Madison where I experienced my first busy season and got a good taste of what life will be like as a public accountant. It is great that our accounting department not only encourages but offers 12 credits, the equivalent of a semester, for these types of internships. I was working 65-plus hour weeks and was able to learn a lot about auditing and tax, and that helped me decide what area I wanted to work in after graduation. My second internship was a revenue recognition systems internship, which perfectly combined my accounting and information systems degrees. I also had the opportunity to do collaborative research in my senior year with one of my accounting professors. My research was on "Economic Nexus and Its Impact Tax Manipulation" for large-scale retailers. Unfortunately, due to COVID, I was not able to present my research at the conferences I had originally signed up for.

What are your post-graduation plans? 

I've accepted an audit associate position with RSM LLP in the Twin Cities. My plan is to move over into IT consulting once I have had some experience in auditing.