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Alumni Reflect: If Not For Ashbrook…

Recently a group of highly successful Ashbrook alumni spoke with Executive Director Roger Beckett about the impact of the Ashbrook Scholar program on their lives. Some said that their career choices would have been entirely different had they not studied in the program. Others said they would have gone into these professions with the wrong goals. All said that the challenging design of the program taught them to understand their own abilities, giving them confidence to excel.

Fred Bills (class of 2005) planned to major in American Literature / English when he went to Ashland to interview for the Scholar program. “I took one step into the Ashbrook Center and I knew something different was going on here that I wanted to be a part of.” After graduating, he entered law school and now serves as an attorney in the litigation section of Weston Hurd LLP after serving as an Assistant County Prosecutor for Franklin County, Ohio for five years.

“Every step through the Ashbrook program led me to where I am now,” says Caitlin Poling (class of 2008), who is Director of Government Relations at Foreign Policy Initiative, a Washington, DC think tank. A summer internship at the Claremont Institute paved the way for another internship at The Heritage Foundation, “which led me to be here in D.C. and even now, the people I meet, the connections I make, the topics I work on day to day, reflect my decision to be a part of the Ashbrook program.”

Most entering Scholars “really don’t know what they are capable of until they get into and through the program,” Bills commented.  In Ashbrook seminars, “rather than one or two students in a three way conversation with the professor,” all the Scholars actively participate, producing a friendly rivalry that pushes everyone forward. “We didn’t just leave the dialogue in the classroom, we went out of class to continue the conversation,” said Casie Hollis (class of 2002), now a lawyer in the Dayton office of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP.

Hollis also commented on the effect of the speaker program. “Being in a room with Benjamin Netanyahu” changed her idea of herself. It was not “anything in particular that he said that evening; it was just realizing that in Ashland, Ohio” she was in a private, Scholars-only session with a figure who would someday be “in history books.” Beckett, himself a Scholar (class of 1996), commented that for him, the surprising effect of these close encounters with powerful personalities was a realization that he could in fact think in pace with them and forcefully articulate positions of his own.

Rebeccah Heinrichs (class of 2004) brought a competitive spirit to the program that might have led her to her current work even if she had attended another school. Her Ashbrook experience, however, transformed her ambition into a passion for the truth. “I started the program wanting to win an argument more than I wanted to be right. I left wanting to be right more than I wanted to win an argument. In other words, I was encouraged to love what is right and true above all.” She now is a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, specializing in nuclear deterrence, missile defense, and arms control policy. “In this messy business of public policy, we have to be willing to concede when we are wrong and to adjust our positions accordingly. The Ashbrook Program helped me realize just how hard thinking is. . . . Changing one’s mind and changing another’s is difficult business, but in a truly vibrant liberal democracy, we must all be willing to participate in lifelong education. Imagine how much richer our civic life would be if we all had the privilege of an Ashbrook education.”

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