Ashley G. is an engineering student with passions for encouraging more women to get into STEM fields, finding ways to improve the education system, protecting the environment, and expressing herself creatively through art and design - just wait til you hear about her apartment (scroll down for photos!)!
Originally from Nashville, she grew up in the southeast US, but it was only when she came to the west coast for college that she started upping her spice tolerance and getting into that hot chicken game. Now, Ashley’s an online tutoring pioneer for PCH Tutors, and does a lot of her tutoring remotely. In this interview, she shares how she keeps it all moving and shaking and inspiring.
What’s your major?
I’m in a dual-degree called the 3-2 program, where I do three years at Pepperdine and two at USC for a five-year degree. I’m in my fourth year total, but my first at USC. I studied natural science with a physics minor at Pepperdine, and at USC I’m a mechanical engineer major.
How did you end up in this Pepperdine/USC program?
I applied to 16-17 colleges around the country and was very open to where I might end up. Geographically, I wasn’t sure where I belonged - the only thing set in stone was that I knew I wanted to be an engineer. A friend had gone to Pepperdine a year before me, so I applied because of her; the engineering program affiliated with USC was attractive, and it was a great opportunity to get out of the south and try California for a while.
How is it to be a transfer student?
I was socially and culturally involved at Pepperdine, so it hasn’t always been easy, especially going from a small school - high school, too - to a big school. By the time I finished there were fewer than 10 engineers in my program at Pepperdine. It’s been harder to get involved at USC but I’m learning I just have to put in more work.
How did you choose your field of study?
When I was in high school I thought I wanted to be either a physical therapist or an engineer, or do some sort of design because I really do love design, both interior and art. In high school, I took AP art along with AP sciences like AP chemistry. I was very versatile, and hung out with both artsy and nerdy people.
Really, the environment I grew up in encouraged me toward engineering. My dad was an engineer - there are over 20 engineers in my family - and my female cousin who is an engineer particularly inspired me. I loved Legos as a kid and all the “boy toys” - I always had a knack for building things and my parents, of course, wanted me to get a degree that would push me to a successful future. Engineering seemed like a good fit for that.
Of course, the balance is always to find something that lets you do what you love and will also help you live. I’m studying engineering but I also want to find a way to artistically and creatively do something with my career. I really need to be able to creatively express myself; I’m an engineer but I’m not a normal engineer, which I think is actually pretty common. At USC there are so many types of people and it’s great that people are going into fields you wouldn’t necessarily think they would, creating a more diverse community. My mom is a little worried about me entering a male-dominated field, but I say if I don’t go into it, it’s never going to change.
For example, I designed my own apartment: drilling into concrete, the whole thing. When I go to Home Depot to buy a drill bit or whatever, men typically assume I don’t know anything. Even men who don’t work there often to help me, but I already know exactly what I need!
There is definitely a social stigma about women not being able to be in an engineering environment. People don’t take me seriously until I prove myself, which is frustrating. My aunt and female cousin are both engineers and also struggle to deal with that.
It can change, though, we just have to do it and encourage women and girls that they can do math and science. I really like being an example to my students and encouraging them - especially girls - in math and science, because there’s just not a lot of emphasis on women in STEM. Often, girls are just as good in those areas as boys, but we’ve been preconditioned otherwise. As a woman and a tutor, I am happy to play a little role that can ultimately affect that stigma and start to change it. After all, since 2013 there have been more women than men in universities. Women are in positions where we can do these careers so we need to start believing in them and assuming they can. I don’t even want a leg up, I just want to be treated as an equal coming in, and not have to prove myself anymore than anyone else.
What are you hoping to do with your degree long-term?
I have a lot of dreams - everyone out here does! Los Angeles is just an inspiring place, everyone here seems inspired to do things and make a change. My end goal is always to feel as though I have made a change and an impact but I’m also happy and confident with who I am and what I’ve contributed at the end of the day, whether I am super “successful” or not. At the end of the day, though, I hope my hard work will pay off.
I love engineering and it’s my passion right now, but I look at is as more of a building block, a start where I can grow. I want to take engineering and do more with it. I don’t play on stopping there. There are lots of things I’m passionate about, like climate change and animals, so there are a lot of things happening that I can focus on, but at the end of the day if I am pleased with whatever I’m putting out in the world, that’s the real measure of success.
What are you hoping to do after you graduate?
I’ll graduate in 2020 after my fifth year. I’m considering applying for the PDP program to get an accelerated masters, then start working.
Is your passion for encouraging female students to be confident in their math and science abilities specifically why you became a tutor, or what else inspired you to start teaching others?
I never thought of tutoring as something I could do. In high school I was smart enough, but not valedictorian or anything. I did well enough but never thought I could teach others - that is such a huge responsibility! I thought I’d have to be so smart and know everything; I couldn’t imagine doing what they do. But my friend, who was a tutor for PCH Tutors, encouraged me to do it. He told me, “You already know and are learning the math, why not help others learn it, too?” I hadn’t even realized I could share that with others.
I realized it’s not a matter of whether you know the material like the back of your hand, but it’s mostly a matter of whether you can teach it. It’s more about the ability to communicate an idea to a student in a way that’s specifically tailored to them. Tutoring is like coaching a sport - just because you’re a good baseball player doesn’t necessarily mean you can teach it. Of course you want a tutor who is pretty well versed in the subject matter. But times are changing - kids are taught different problems and methods than they were even a few years ago! If I don’t know something, I’ll look it up, then figure out how to convey it to my students. Teachers can be insanely smart but may not always know how to teach to different students’ learning needs, which is a shame; luckily I’m here to help them! I actually have my own tutor, too - yes, tutors can be tutored! - who helps me with physics and engineering stuff.
I’m close with all my students, I love them to death. Tutoring has been the best job, honestly. I tell everyone they should do it, it’s so rewarding, and it even helps ME with school. It keeps me on my toes with the smaller things like factoring polynomials and graphing them - I actually do use those in class. I just had an engineering test and definitely used some of the material I taught my kids. Helping kids with their school is a huge responsibility and when they do better and learn it just makes it even more rewarding.
It’s pretty clear your students love you, too: when you moved downtown to USC, it looked like you weren’t going to be able to keep tutoring them. But they petitioned to keep you as a tutor, and now you’re working with some of them online! How’s the online tutoring process going?
We use both an iPad and a computer and it’s amazing - I don’t know how people did online tutoring without both of these tools! Just last night a student got home late and hit me up to ask if we could still work, like, “Can we do this now?” I was almost home so I said yes, give me five minutes to get inside! I was able to sit up and work late with the student because I didn’t have to drive and meet them. It’s really flexible for both me and the students. Sometimes their class schedules and mine conflict - for example, college students often finish our exams and head home for the holidays earlier than the high school students have their final exams. That means they lose their tutor when they really need it! So I’m excited for this online tutoring, and I have a good system going with my students.
Do you have any tutoring success stories?
There are always those times students do better on a test that feel good, but success is more like little victories that happen when I tutor and see something click for a student. I can see a light spark in them and they get so happy because they learned it and did it on their own and now they believe in themselves. The moment they actually get it - which happens all the time with tutoring - and those types of little moments are what I pay more attention to. Getting better grades is one thing - that’s what they’re paying for, that is what is suppose to happen. But it makes me feel great when I see they are feeling confident.
I’ll get off the phone with a student after a session and they’ll say, “Wow, it’s been an hour already?” I mean, have YOU ever said that about learning math? Building up their confidence is what really inspires me.
What’s something you’ve learned you wish someone had taught you sooner?
Freshman year was academically harder than I’d expected while I was getting situated in a new environment. But that happens during an adjustment. I could say I wish I’d had a better mindset going into college; I thought I was confident and a hard worker but I still had to learn how to adjust. Taking physics and chemistry and calculus was much different in college than it was in high school! But I think I had to go through that.
What is something a tutor/mentor taught you that you’ve found to be invaluable advice?
My tutor at college has been really good - if I didn’t have him to help me with school I don’t know if I would have had the confidence as I do now. It’s almost a reversal - someone doing for me what I was then able to use to help my kids. Everyone - but especially kids - needs someone to be that mentor and give them that confidence and help them believe in themselves. Mentoring is so important.
What is some advice you want to give to students?
I like to tell my kids that I feel good when I put good out there in the world. Also, see the bigger picture and don’t let the silly stuff or little high school things drag you down. I encourage students to stay grounded and realize those little distractions are not such a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I try to encourage them to be those better kids in high school, to help others and be mentors to others and create more goodness around them.
What do you do for fun?
I love expressing myself artistically. I’m obsessed with my apartment: any free time I’ve had, I just work on my apartment, designing, doing arts and crafts, reupholstering furniture, everyone on a tight budget. I’m really proud of it, and that’s what has made me realize I need to find some way to stay creative like that in my career. I can do physics all day long but I’m so excited to come home and work on that painting or whatever creative project I’ve started, and I’ll stay up ‘til 3am doing it. I’m going ham on this place - it’s my creative release. I’m also a foodie, so I love exploring and experiencing new places with friends.
I also love the outdoors and hiking - I studied abroad over the summer and hiked all over Europe every weekend. Now that I live downtown I find ways I make sure I go to the outdoors - I often go back to Malibu on the weekends to hike or go to the beach. Working out and being healthy is a huge part of what helps me get through everything, it really helps with my mental state and having less stress.