Carnegie Mellon University
July 21, 2023

Alumna Champions Increasing College Graduation, Success Rates

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Through conducting research in Carnegie Mellon University's chemistry laboratories Ashlie Prioleau found the confidence to experiment outside the classroom.

"It all started with science," said Prioleau who graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry and is an academic innovator and entrepreneur in higher education. "The Mellon College of Science created a safe environment for me to build analytical skills and the confidence to carry out experiments, even if they do not always go as planned."

A Pittsburgh native and daughter of 1975 Mellon College of Science alumna Jerilyn Dorsey, Prioleau attended many pre-college experiences. She applied early decision to Carnegie Mellon.

Prioleau initially leaned toward pursuing a medical profession and quickly switched from biological sciences to chemistry.

"I preferred the hands-on learning in the lab and feeling in control of the end product," she said.

As her chemistry knowledge grew, Prioleau also flourished as a campus leader, student employee and mentor for other students. She received a grant to start a campus LGBTQ mentoring program and worked in Student Affairs positions including as a community advisor and pre-college assistant director over the summer. She also served as the president for the Minority Association of Pre-Medical Students (MAPS) and a COMPASS (Coaching Minority Progress and Academic Success in Science) mentor.

"I didn't realize it at first, but I pretty much started a career when I was in undergrad at CMU," Prioleau said.

Her own mentors went the extra mile to see her succeed. They included Amy Burkert, teaching professor of biological sciences and vice provost for education; Holly Hippensteel, now associate vice president for community standards and diversity initiatives; Ty Walton, former director of the Carnegie Mellon Advising Resource Center; and Karen Stump, director of undergraduate studies and laboratories and a teaching professor in chemistry.

With their help, Prioleau directed her focus to higher education management and earned both a master's degree and doctorate in the field from the University of Pittsburgh.

"I saw a real need in higher education to support marginalized students strategically and more efficiently, especially beyond Carnegie Mellon, where many students across the nation do not have a positive experience like I had," Prioleau said. "You realize how hard it is for students who come from similar backgrounds as myself, anywhere from low income to middle class families just trying to understand how to navigate complexities of affording and earning a Bachelor's degree in order to ultimately improve their circumstances for future generations."

She blazed a career path through enrollment management, consulting, education technology and more. She served as the director of Student Success Consulting at the Education Advisory Board and inaugural executive director of ADVANCE, a partnership between George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College to help students transferring from the community college to George Mason stay on track for graduation in four years. The program under her leadership demonstrated an 89% retention rate.

She also served as the vice president of Urban Initiatives at the Association for Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and executive director of the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities (USU) consulting for over 40 university presidents and chancellors on student success strategies.

Prioleau leverages predictive models, artificial intelligence and early alerts for higher education institutions that analyzes students' academic performance and behaviors to better efficiently and effectively support students during their academic journey.

She has developed registration dashboards where institutions could track student enrollment week to week or compare previous semesters to current ones to project retention and graduation. Students also can track their progress through personalized dashboards.

"Data science is something I learned about at CMU and later had the opportunity to translate that knowledge often applied in health care, insurance and banking into the college and university arena," said Prioleau, who established Brown Bridges Consulting in 2022 to share her strategies, tools, and expertise. "It's an honor and a privilege to focus my energy daily on innovating with university leaders to better serve students of color and other marginalized groups on campus."

Along with running Brown Bridges, Prioleau now serves as the assistant vice president of Student Success, Thriving and Retention at American University, where she provides evidence-based suggestions to change the university culture and policies.

"What that entails disrupting policies, procedures and practices that do not serve students equitably," Prioleau said. "I wouldn't be where I am today without the strong analytical experience and leadership development I had at Carnegie Mellon."

— Related Content —