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Duncan cites family, friends, professor for success as 1st gen graduate
Stephen Greenwell
Ashley Duncan.
Ashley Duncan.

When Ashley Duncan thinks about her graduation from the Cullen College of Engineering, the Technology Leadership & Innovation Management graduate and first generation college student can't help but feel a mixture of different emotions.

“I have a lot of feelings about graduating – excitement, happiness, joy, a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment,” she said. “I’m finally completing something I’ve been dreaming about since I was little. It’s finally here, I did it, it’s no longer a dream but a reality. And I’m just so proud of myself.”

“I also feel other feelings such as fear. This is where like many others, my overthinking arises. The 'what ifs,' the 'what’s next,' they flood my brain and make me scared. But I drown them out with happy thoughts and remind myself that everything will be okay.”

Duncan initially chose UH for a combination of family, economic and location reasons. She completed several courses at Houston Community College before transferring to Cullen.

“I was working and going to school full-time. I couldn’t afford to relocate or get a dorm. By attending UH I could commute to the university, and stay close to my family, so it was the best decision for me,” she said, although Duncan recalibrated some of her goals after talking with friends.

“I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t take out loans. I had been paying for my education 100 percent independently up until this year,” she said. “Thanks to the help of my very close friend Julia Chamon, I realized that my education and my well-being was more important than a promise. I took out a small loan to be able to focus more on my education and myself. Even though it was a tough decision, I believe it was the right decision.”

Beyond Chamon, Duncan identified several others that were important for her academic success, starting with her family.

“I am a first-generation college student, and a lot of the time I felt lost or confused throughout my education journey. Having my family by my side was a blessing. I knew I needed them by my side as I was still young and experiencing so many things. It got pretty overwhelming at times, but my family was always there for me, especially my mom, Maria. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have the best possible mom and every day, I thank God for blessing me with her presence in my life.”

“Her and my sisters were my rock, whenever I needed to pour out my feeling, share my frustrations or ask for advice they listened and supported me along the way. Sometimes it was a bit difficult to explain to them specifics about my education journey or what I was going through because this was new to not just me, but for them too. But despite not having walked in my shoes they always took the time to understand and comfort me in times of need. I love them with my whole heart, and thank them every day for that.”

Duncan mentioned several others that were important for her as she pursued her degree.

“I met my best friend Honorio when I was 11, and even though he moved states and we stopped communicating for a few years, our friendship rekindled as of 2021 and I couldn’t be happier for that,” she said. “He is the smartest, kindest, and most deserving person I know. He is currently studying to be a civil engineer at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Even though he has his own schoolwork, his own responsibilities and his own stress, he always made time to talk to me, help me out or hear me out whenever I needed a good laugh or whenever I was stuck. I’m eternally grateful for having him as my best friend.”

At UH, Duncan identified Maria Burns – an assistant professor and the Coordinator of the Technology Leadership and Innovation Management Program – as a positive influence.

“Dr. Burns was honestly the best professor I could ask for. She was always so caring, so kind and was always willing to go over and beyond for her students. I always enjoyed attending her classes because she made them fun and engaging. Seeing her unwavering determination, passion, and hard work in teaching inspired me to persevere in my own studies. In the final year of my education Dr. Burns played a pivotal role as a guide, as she constantly reached out, seeing me for who I am rather than just another number or statistic. She genuinely cared and her genuine concern means so much to me. I admire Dr. Burn for her tireless work and all she does, having her as my professor was a privilege and I couldn’t had asked for a more exceptional mentor.”

With her degree in hand, Duncan will be looking for work in the field of project management, and she's open to several different industries.

“My plans for post-graduation involve finding a project management job in the oil & gas, technology or shipping industries,” she said. “I aim to secure employment and build financial stability to be able to pursue a Master’s Degree in Criminal Psychology. I have always wanted to help those around me, and that passion has helped guide my career aspirations. I’m convinced that by pursuing a career in Criminal Psychology I will be able to help and support crime victims while also contributing to the justice system. My goal is to make a positive change in the world. Even if my impact is small and only impacts a few, I know that I am making a meaningful difference in the world.”

She added, “I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunities I’ve had while attending Cullen and I want to thank all the professors, staff members and classmates alike for helping me along the way.”

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