Ashley Simpson is a leader. Her willingness to get involved and step out front has shaped the 2021 graduate’s very successful career at the University of South Carolina. But, her journey did not come without hard work and sweat.
While still a freshman, Simpson became a Group X workout instructor with the Campus Recreation Department. The job was a natural fit for the sport and entertainment management major who enjoyed a wide range of athletic interests, and it helped her make some unexpected gains.
"I think joining that community and putting myself in the position of instructor pushed me to be more of a leader. It really helped me find my voice and build my confidence speaking in front of people,” she says. "It's been a catalyst to help me in all areas of my life."
Simpson began building on her leadership foundation — serving as a College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management student ambassador and as a Young Life leader, as well as getting involved with many other activities. She continued as an instructor throughout her undergraduate career, and eventually became a mentor to younger instructors. Then in her junior year, she founded the UofSC chapter of Pretty Girls Sweat, a national organization that focuses on encouraging women and young girls to establish a healthy lifestyle through exercise.
In addition to helping female students embrace a healthy lifestyle, Simpson used the new student organization as a platform to encourage more people of color to utilize the university’s fitness facility resources.
“I wanted more people who look like me to be in my classes, and to feel like coming to the gym and exercising was a safe space and something that they can also take advantage of, because our tuition pays for this multi-million-dollar gym," she says. She frequently sees classes of 40 or more now, with a wide variety of participants.
In addition to her campus involvement, Simpson worked hard in the classroom to earn her spot on the dean’s list. She found managing it all to be a challenge, but one she could handle.
"With all those obligations it's easy to lose time for yourself and your friends,” she says. "I think by year four I had a good grip on a balance between work and play."
Simpson credits her academic advisor, Katherine Blanton (not by coincidence, also the advisor for Pretty Girls Sweat), for helping her find that balance and providing countless insights about academics and life.
“Katherine Blanton is my rock. She has always gone above and beyond for me since I first set foot on this campus,” Simpson says, “We've created a relationship that goes beyond student-advisor. That's something UofSC has given me that I can never thank them enough for."
As a campus leader and a Black woman, Simpson knows there is work to be done on social justice and has never hesitated to get involved. She believes she chose a good place to make a difference.
"Anywhere you go, being a minority student you're going to have issues. I just feel like the University of South Carolina presents the most diversity and it's not forced at all,” she says. "We can still take strides forward, but I think we've done a good job making sure people are represented and voices are heard, and I appreciate that about our school. Even in just choosing our ambassadors, we have people of all ethnicities from all over the world."
With that spirit of inclusion in mind, Simpson encourages younger students to be part of more than just the university student body.
"Try everything. Try different clubs. Try to get involved. Just sitting in your room is not going to give you the college experience that this university can offer,” she says. "You can really find your passion in college. Get out there and find what works for you and create community. It takes a village to achieve college success too, not just to raise a kid."
Simpson will be staying in Columbia after graduation, having been accepted in the master of human resources program at UofSC’s Darla Moore School of Business. She found herself drawn to human resources while interning with the American Junior Golf Association as part of her sport and entertainment management degree.
"The most memorable part for me was the training process and everything that went into us getting hired,” she says. “I felt I would excel in training and development."
Simpson says another lesson learned at the College of HRSM will stay with her wherever her future leads.
"Form relationships with your professors,” she says. “Our professors are amazing. You never know who they know or when you might need a shoulder to lean on or advice from someone older than you."