First-generation senior passionate about advocacy

Bobby Shipman

Editor’s note:  Hilton was part of Alpha Kappa Psi, which is a business fraternity open to all majors. 

Ashley Hilton is passionate.

“That is one word that describes me, and it is passion that has gotten me this far,” said Hilton, USI’s 2013 President’s Medal recipient.

Hilton is a first-generation student graduating Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in social work on Saturday. She has participated in organizations such as Phi Alpha, the National Honor Society for social work, of which she was elected secretary, and  Alpha Kappa Psi Professional Business Fraternity, where she worked on the service committee.

As a first-generation student, Hilton said she initially found it difficult to find her footing at USI after leaving her small-town community of Terre Haute, Ind.

“I was one of only two people from my hometown coming to USI,” Hilton said. “I had to really grow up quickly. Being from a bigger high school, it was hard to find somebody to help me navigate those waters, and my parents had no idea.”

It did not take long after getting involved in USI’s student life for Hilton to meet new people. From day one of school, she had an instant connection with senior elementary education major Kelsey Harmon.

“(Hilton) is very hardworking and very driven,” Harmon said. “She’ll help out (at) soup kitchens, she’ll work volunteer hours, and no matter what, she’ll try to fit in everything she can in one day.”

Hilton has done volunteer work for Aurora and Destination Home, nonprofit organizations that work to address and end homelessness.

“I haven’t slept much in the last four years,” Hilton said. “I have this mentality of wanting to take the most advantage of everything I can. Junior year I had 17 credit hours and was working 56 hours a week at three part-time jobs and still volunteering.”

Through social work, Hilton has worked with people in impoverished neighborhoods, kids with special needs, people suffering from mental illness and the homeless. She said she hopes to one day own her own nonprofit organization targeted to help women and adolescents at risk of teen pregnancy or poverty, or who have been exposed to sexual assault or domestic violence.

“You get out of life what you put into it, even if you’re fearful at first and have no idea what’s going on,” Hilton said. “It’s all about taking that initiative, that first step, to get involved, to work hard and to believe in yourself. You have to be an adult and make grown-up decisions and really start to take responsibility for your actions and your life.”

Hilton also hopes to be an advocate for human rights on an international level.

“I know in many countries there are situations where women are oppressed and I just hate that,” Hilton said. “I would love to play a part in gathering people together for a cause.”

Although her parents were not college graduates, Hilton knew that getting a degree was her only option.

“I was inspired because of my desire to help people,” she said. “To me, education is important and a lot of my determination to attend college came from the fact that to be the best that I can be for other people, I need to get my degree.”

Debbie Clark, circulation manager at Rice Library, said Hilton is a focused and energetic individual. Hilton worked under Clark for two years at the library’s checkout counter.

“She enjoys life, enjoys work, enjoys whatever she’s doing,” Clark said. “It’s enjoyable to her – she makes it enjoyable.”