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First-gen Public Health graduate driven to succeed by helping others

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 4, 2023) As a first-generation college student, University of Kentucky College of Public Health student Ashley Wright is carrying a legacy for her family. 

At an early age, Wright’s father passed away, which set her on a course to find a purpose and passion for helping others. She often thinks of him as her guardian angel, guiding her through her studies.

“I came from humbling beginnings,” said Wright. “Losing my father helped shape me. It is one of the main reasons why I am here and pursued an education at the University of Kentucky.” 

When Wright originally enrolled at the UK, she was a biology major and working her way through college at Walgreens. Her original aspiration was to become a pharmacist. However, it didn’t feel like things were falling into place exactly as she’d hoped. 

Wright needed direction. She was doing well in school, but couldn’t see herself in the career she had chosen, which in turn lowered her motivation. That’s when she met her academic advisor, Tyrone Wilson.

After talking with Wilson, Wright decided she didn’t want to go into a career behind the pharmacy counter. Wilson advised her to switch to public health, and she never looked back.

In her junior year, Wright met Florence “Flo” Fulk, Ph.D., current faculty member in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health in the UK College of Public Health.

“Dr. Fulk started talking to me about public health and more specifically, environmental health,” said Wright. “At the time, I was doubting my strengths at the graduate school level, but Dr. Fulk gave me confidence that I could do this.” 

Wright found herself taking Fulk’s environmental health undergraduate course and was immediately impressed. 

“We just connected in her class, and I started loving public health,” said Wright. “I was also impressed that she brought her professional experiences from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) into the classroom. She brought real-world stories of her impact in improving the health of populations, which inspired me.” 

After further discussions with Fulk and her family, Wright enrolled in the University Scholars Program, a unique opportunity to get a Bachelor of Public Health degree and a Master of Public Health degree in just five years. 

“At the time, I was doubting my strengths at the graduate school level, but Dr. Fulk gave me confidence that I could do this,” said Wright.

Wright is set to graduate with her bachelor’s degree this week, followed by her master’s degree in 2024. Beyond graduation, Wright  is dreaming big. She shadowed at the EPA in Cincinnati and it solidified her commitment to a career in public health.

“I want to work for a government agency like the EPA, CDC or FDA,” said Wright . “I want to make a difference and change people’s lives.” 

Wright recently participated in the Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center’s African American Research Training Scholars (AARTS) program, an opportunity to receive up to 12 months of funded research training in neurotrauma at the UK College of Medicine. 

Going forward, Wright plans to find additional shadowing opportunities, internships, and valuable practicum experiences to boost her resume and credentials. Through her coursework and experiences, she has come to understand that public health is more than just COVID-19 and infectious disease research. 

“Public health is about informing people and changing someone’s perspective on their health,” said Wright. “It’s about giving people a chance to live healthier.” 

She credits her positive experiences in her undergraduate career at the College of Public Health to the great faculty and staff. 

“The college is hiring great people to support us, the students,” said Wright. “The faculty have great experience in the field, provide lots of opportunities, and conduct impactful research.  

“The staff are also incredibly supportive. My academic advisor, Jennifer Stevens, does so much to help set me up for success. If you want to be successful and be surrounded by people that care, then this is the college to be at," said the grad.

Wright  is looking forward to graduating, but also making her family proud. 

“All my life, I’ve had to fight harder than most,” said Wright. “I am doing this for my family and want to be able to take care of them one day. My drive and my background are what separates me from most. I am willing to do what it takes.” 

Learn more here about the University of Kentucky College of Public Health’s people, programs and passion for public health. 

Ashley Wright
Ashley Wright
Ashley Wright

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

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