Ashley Stipek ‘09 graduated from the University of St. Andrews with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Affairs and a master’s degree in Terrorism Studies. Her master’s coursework focused on terrorism and trafficking, critical infrastructure protection, right-wing terrorism, and political violence. Since graduating, she has worked in Washington, D.C. in public policy, research, and communications. Ashley is currently a Communications Strategist with the Institute of International Education, a nonprofit which works to advance international scholarship, build economies, and promote access to opportunity. In her free time, Ashley runs the D.C. chapter of Nerd Fitness and enjoys powerlifting, playing board games, and traveling.
How does your academic background in international affairs and terrorism studies inform your current work at the Institute of International Education?
Doing both my undergraduate and master degree abroad taught me to look at experiences and challenges from a different cultural and contextual perspective. When I work on projects like newsletters and research papers with people from around the world, having that knowledge and using my perspective to further the discussion in a meaningful way is critical. And it means so much to me that my work helps new students and scholars discover the power of international education.
Has there been a moment in your education or career that was particularly surprising, challenging, or defining – something that sticks with you to this day?
I am the editor of our magazine the IIENetworker and producing the first issue was a challenge! It involved so much learning as you go and I had no idea how complex the process of editing and producing a magazine was. The review panel accepted too many articles to fit in the magazine so I had to figure out a solution that would meet our needs but still acknowledge the work the authors had put into their articles. I decided to run some of them as guest blogs on our company blog and created social media campaigns to promote them. The authors were thrilled and we could move forward with the magazine. When I finally had the printed copy in my hands, I remembered a moment at BUA — in my freshman year, I told Mr. Gambone that I wanted to be an editor. He was so supportive and encouraged me. And even though it wasn’t the way I expected, that dream stuck with me came true.
You clearly have an adventurous spirit! What was one of your most memorable adventures during your five years of studying and traveling outside of the United States? Why are you an advocate for living abroad?
As a reward for completing my master’s dissertation, I went on a solo backpacking trip traveling north from Morocco to the Scottish Highlands. I camped in the Sahara, saw Viking ruins in York, and walked the shores of Loch Ness. And everywhere I went, I met people who shared their passions, their stories, and these experiences with me. Living or traveling abroad teaches you not just about the world, but who you are and what you are capable of. Our research at IIE shows that international experiences develops key skills that employers are looking for in job candidates in ways that few other student experiences do. The personal and professional growth I gained from living and working outside the U.S. is immeasurable and I hope everyone has the ability to have a similar experience.
Was there a class, teacher, or experience at BUA that sparked your passion for international affairs, and/or for the path you are pursuing?
The spring break trips to Spain, France, and Italy were some of my first international travel and they opening my eyes to the world and how much there was to learn. Dr. Horn encouraged me to take the leap and attend St. Andrews, despite my fears about living so far from everything I knew.