Carnegie Mellon University
November 18, 2022

Ashley Christopherson Wins Staff Community Excellence Award

By Emily Nagin

Ashley Christopherson’s future was decided by the flip of a coin. As the first person in her family to attend college, Christopherson says she didn’t have the opportunity to visit any schools during her senior year of high school and was unsure which factors to consider when choosing one. So, she flipped a coin.

“Luckily, I ended up right where I needed to be,” she said. “Franklin and Marshall College, a small liberal arts institution where faculty and staff care deeply about their students.”

Now, Christopherson brings this same care to her work as an advisor in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Academic Advisory Center (AAC).

An advisor for first- and second-year Dietrich students, as well as all first-year and undeclared Tartan Scholars, Christopherson’s thoughtfulness and dedication serve as an inspiration to her advisees and coworkers, who nominated her for the inaugural Staff Community Excellence Award, a college-level award sponsored by the Dietrich College Dean’s Office. The award recognizes staff who “regularly go above and beyond expectations to create a more inclusive, just and welcoming community.” Christopherson received the award at the Oct. 27 Conversation and Connections Luncheon for staff and faculty.

“Above and beyond” describes Christopherson to a T. Whether she is establishing a loaner laptop program for students struggling to afford computer repairs, spending her weekends alongside her colleagues calling parents and families of first-year students to share resources, organizing game nights, snack breaks, and succulent planting parties for Tartan Scholars, sending happy birthday messages to her advisees, or mentoring first-generation college students in the newly established First Together Initiative, Christopherson brings her whole heart to her work.

“Ashley cares so much about her students and seems to have a limitless supply of empathy and time to devote to their success and well-being,” said Kim Piatt, director of experiential learning. 

AAC advisor Cy Gage added, “Her consideration for the individual is quite remarkable. In any given situation, she’s immediately aware of how identities inform experiences, and she considers the diverse ways that people may be impacted by actions or policies.”

Christopherson’s nuanced understanding of identity is shaped in part by her own experience as the first in her family to attend college. “Being a first-generation college student, I didn’t arrive on campus with much navigational capital,” she said. “I thought the hard part was getting into college, but really it was learning that I belonged there.” Her own sense of belonging grew as she developed relationships with mentors who connected her with opportunities and resources.

With this in mind, Christopherson partnered with Beth Jameson, assistant director and career consultant at the Career and Professional Development Center (CPDC) this fall to conduct an opportunity workshop for Dietrich’s first- and second-year Tartan Scholars. Christopherson and Jameson created a “Catalog of Opportunities” listing internships, scholarships, experiential learning courses and research opportunities and explained how students could best prepare and apply. Christopherson was blown away when over a third of the first- and second-year Dietrich Tartan Scholar cohort took time away from studying for their midterms to attend the workshop.

“I am […] excited to see the impact they make on their community,” Christopherson said of her advisees. “Carnegie Mellon students are brilliant, thoughtful change-makers. I learn something new from them every day.”

The appreciation is mutual. Christopherson’s advisees say the work she does to support and encourage them has made a tangible impact on their experience at Carnegie Mellon. “If it weren’t for Ashley, navigating college as a first-year would have been absolutely terrifying,” said second-year psychology major Stanley Duong. “She truly did make me feel welcomed, understood and cared for at this institution that was so far away from home.” 

Second-year philosophy major Chuong (Chad) Truong agrees, adding, “Her background as a first-gen student really helped me during my first year, as I am also a first-gen student. It just made the whole experience seem achievable and real.”

Second-year psychology student Vivian Lin said, “Ashley is definitely the comforting, reassuring and supportive rock that all students need in their lives. Her genuine passion for helping students reach their goals is palpable in every meeting […] I’ve met few other people so genuine in their help, so open about their passion and so supportive of others.”