Though Ashely has not yet decided where she will transfer to complete her bachelor’s degree, the Cooke scholarship has expanded her choices. “Columbia and New York University are possibilities now,” she says.

June 8, 2022

She Found Her Purpose and Passion at PCCC

Ashely Diaz

Associate in Science Degree in Human Services/Social Work with Honors

  • Phi Theta Kappa
  • 2022 NJ All-State Academic Team
  • Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship
  • All-USA Coca-Cola Foundation Gold Scholarship

Ever since kindergarten, Ashely Diaz loved being a student. “I didn’t come to college for a career,” she says. “I came to learn. I love being teachable.”

In fact, Ashely is about to graduate with her second associate’s degree. She earned one in English in 2020 and this spring will receive another, with honors, in Human Services/Social Work.

Though she enjoyed her English major and professors, Ashely was discontented after receiving her first degree. “ I felt that something was missing,” she explains.

A prolific writer, journalist, and poet, Ashely realized that writing was cathartic for her, a way to cope with the stress of growing up in a family that struggled constantly to make ends meet. “I thought if writing helped me, it could help others, too.”

As an intern in a methadone clinic, Ashely used poetry with clients who have opioid disorder and saw how the art and counseling connected. “Some of these people can barely write, but you wouldn’t believe what comes forth from them in a poetry session.” 

Initially, the Paterson resident was headed to a four-year college, but changed her mind abruptly and decided to stay close to home to help her family. “When I enrolled at PCCC, I felt that I was selling myself short,” says Ashely.  “Little did I know.”

As an English major Ashely was taken under the wing of Professor Christine Redman-Waldeyer, where she flourished as a journalist and eventually became editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, Visions. “That really gave me leadership skills,” says Ashely.

She honed those skills In the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) Honor Society, while also learning the value of teamwork.  “I was used to working on my own, and teamwork wasn’t easy for me,“ says Ashely,” but it  helped me to become a more effective leader.”

Encouraged by Professor Jennifer Gasparino, PTK’s faculty advisor, Ashely ran for PTK regional office and was elected first as membership coordinator and later as president of the Middle States region. “I am so grateful to Professor Gasparino,” says Ashely. “She is amazing and she really changed me.”  

Now glad that she came to PCCC, Ashely graduates with numerous honors. She was named to the 2022 NJ All-State Academic Team, received a scholarship award from the Coca-Cola Foundation, and is a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, one of the most prestigious academic awards for community college students.

“I was in complete shock,” says Ashely when she learned she received the Cooke award, which will provide her with up to $50,000 per year towards completing her bachelor’s degree, as well as funding for graduate school, coveted internship opportunities, and more.

The scholarship also enables her to transfer to the New York University Silver School of Social Work, one of her top choices, to complete her bachelor’s degree.

Ashely has now defined a career path. She plans to earn a social work degree, become a counselor, then go on to law school.  “I want to be an advocate,” she says. “  I learned that advocacy is key to making the changes that really make a difference.” 

She also learned a lesson about college choice. “Community college is not a step down,” says Ashely. “Starting at PCCC gave me a space to learn my purpose and passions. Now, I think everyone should start at a community college.”