Ashley Dent, the student orator for the Class of 2020, talks about her time at New York Tech and what her plans are after graduation.
Where you are from, how did you find your way to New York Tech, and what did you study?
I am originally from Atlanta, and transferred to New York Tech from Saint Leo University in Tampa, Fla. My major at Saint Leo was marketing; I settled with that because I was limited to taking classes on my military base and the degree programs were slim. I initially found New York Tech in 2014 when my first enlistment in the U.S. Air Force was coming to an end. I had just graduated with an associate’s degree in Aviation Management from the Community College of the Air Force. I flew to New York to tour the campus and immediately fell in love with the vast amount of studio equipment, editing software, radio labs, and more. However, my plans changed and I re-enlisted in the Air Force. Fast forward to 2018, when my second enlistment was ending. I knew New York Tech was where I wanted to go… and started my journey.
You are one of 54 student-veteran graduates in the Class of 2020. (Thank you for your service!) Please share what inspired you to join the United States Air Force.
I swore into the Air Force during my senior year of high school in 2009. I was so inspired by Barack Obama as the first black president, and I thought what an honor it would be to serve under him. I wanted to meet him and serve my country with him as Commander in Chief. The Air Force was my top pick; I had been in Air Force JROTC in high school. Additionally, my grandfather was in the Air Force and I was very close to him. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s during my junior year of high school, and I wanted him to be able to see me join the branch where he, too, had served. My mom, dad, uncle, aunt and great uncles also served in the military, so it was in my blood.
Tell about an experience or a person at New York Tech that has had a lasting impact on you.
I have a few experiences that have had a lasting impact that helped learn more about who “Ashley” was as I transitioned from “Staff Sergeant Dent” to civilian life.
First, I created a show with Globesville, Melanin Madness, to highlight issues unique to living in this world as a brown woman. What started as an idea came to be something so great and meaningful. I was able to gain experience in the realms of production, editing, and writing that really ignited my desire to get deeper into content creation. It opened up room for insightful conversations with my peers and professors that enabled conversations that most people typically shy away from.
Next, planning and participating in the Almost Sunrise movie screening at New York Tech is an experience I will always hold dear, as I was able to take an idea and bring it to fruition with great results. (The documentary follows two Iraq war veterans, both tormented by depression after returning home.) Participating in the post-screening panel and having open dialogue with the audience including my family, friends, peers, professors, and New York Tech community, allowed me to be both open and vulnerable about experiences I had in the military. One of three panelists, I was the only African American and only female. This experience brought two things to light: There needs to be more representation from minority veterans; and, dialogue needs to continue for both the military and civilian communities to have a better understanding of each other. This is one thing that I hope to continue to foster as I create my own production company.
Also, being able to work with Frank Rivera, director of Military and Veterans Affairs, enabled me to co-write and teach New York Tech’s "Green Zone” training for faculty, staff, and student leaders to learn about issues facing active service members, student veterans, and their families.
Additionally, Dean Tiffani Blake has definitely been an inspiration to me. She has shown me that someone who looks like me can go into positions that impact the masses and create a positive change and influence. Additionally, she has taught me that you are never finished learning and must always continue to educate and better yourself.
Why did you want to be the student orator at this year’s commencement?
I wanted to show my peers what can be accomplished when you kick fear to the curb. I am a living testament to facing fear and continuing to push through. In the months leading up to this global pandemic and even more so afterward, I heard so many students say how scared they are about their future. They do not want to step outside of their comfort zone, scared to take risks for fear of failure. So, instead of following their passion and realizing how much potential they have, they settle. I want to show my generation and my fellow graduates that they can live a fulfilling life; fear of failure should not take that away from them. I want nothing more than to encourage and uplift my peers, as well as show my extreme gratitude to this great institution that afforded so much to me, and others.
You spoke before Congress about a bill you drafted to improve the transition of military members leaving service. Can you explain more about the bill?
My experience with the Student Veterans of America (SVA) Legislative Institute was eye-opening. As an Air Force Veteran who separated from service in March 2019, I did not feel adequately prepared as I transitioned into civilian life. My proposal is a pilot program creating a more extensive version of the Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) available to veterans once they separate from service. It would be known as “TGPS (Transition, Goals, Plan and Success) for Vets,” an integrated plan to further veteran success post-service, focusing on employment, entrepreneurship, education, VA navigation, veterans’ resources, financial planning, and resiliency. It will also focus on empowering veterans with the tools to create realistic, sustainable, and objective goals paired with a plan to see it through.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans include attending graduate school to strengthen my skills in media management and business communications, while also diving into the art of storytelling through content creation. My goal is to create my own brand comprising four specific entities:
- The creation of a national non-profit organization to advocate for women who have been victims of sexual trauma, and domestic and other violence, including combat violence.
- A production company, where I can provide a voice through media outlets and content that is focused on issues impacting minority communities and underrepresented demographics.
- A series of children’s books that shows brown boys and girls and the myriad issues they may face.
- Becoming a member of Congress is an aspiration. While in Washington, D.C. last fall, I gained insight on how legislation works and realized there is a lack of representation of voices that are younger, female, minority, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.