“Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and do something different…you don’t want to wait to do anything.”
As a child, Ashley Barbour used a Fisher Price doctor’s kit from her great-grandmother to check up on all her dolls. Years later, as a teenager, Ashley found herself in the role of caretaker again when her father was diagnosed with cancer. She always wanted to be a nurse, but after her dad passed away in her senior year of high school, she wanted to stay far away from hospitals. She enrolled at UNH as an occupational therapy major…but nursing is ultimately where she landed.
Near the end of her first year of college, a friend told Ashley she would make a really great nurse; this comment was the spark she needed to revisit the possibility of nursing. She talked with someone in the nursing program about applying, only to find the application was due the day before. After a little bit of back and forth she was granted a reprieve, but she had only one hour to complete the application. She grabbed the application, ran back to her residence hall, filled out the application and wrote the essay. Amazingly, she made it back in time to turn it in. Ashley didn’t tell anyone she was applying because it was last minute and so competitive, however she was delighted to share the news when she heard she was one of the few students selected.
Ashley loved being a nursing student and thrived in her nursing classes and clinicals, but when her advisor and professor Gene Harkless suggested she consider doing research, she wasn’t so sure.
“When my professor first brought up research, my first thought was ‘No way! Not with my summer.’ I can’t imagine if I’d gone with my gut instinct,” she explained.
Eventually, Ashley left her advisor’s office with a pamphlet for the International Research Opportunities Program (IROP). She was interested in maternal and child health, so decided to research infants and midwives among the Ashanti people in Ghana, a topic that had never been researched. Her proposal was accepted and, in the summer after her junior year, she headed to Ghana, imagining herself sitting beside midwives, watching and taking notes. This was not her experience.
“I thought I’d sit there with a notebook, collecting data, but they said ‘You come with me,’” Ashley recalled. By her second week there, she had delivered her first baby. She spent the entire summer in Ghana, learning not only about the experiences of Ashanti midwives and about deliveries and pre- and post- natal care, but also what she wanted – and didn’t want – to do.
“I can’t imagine any student not applying for IROP,” she said. “It is the coolest opportunity; you can make it up from scratch and go anywhere and do anything.”
Since coming back to campus, Ashley has presented her research at the IROP symposium and has been invited to present at the Eastern Nursing Research Society conference, as well as conferences in Israel and Thailand.
In addition to her love of nursing, Ashley is passionate about environmental conservation and loves being outdoors. She is a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club and spent three summers in college working on an island on Lake Winnipesaukee. Her advice to students is to enjoy UNH and all that it has to offer.
“Take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and do something different…you don’t want to wait to do anything,” she said.
As the first person in her family to go to college, Ashley is a great example of how determination and effort can take you far, especially with the help of supportive people. Ashley is thankful for the encouragement of her great-grandmother, who has been a huge role model in her life, as well as supportive faculty members like Gene Harkless, who helped Ashley initiate her trip to Ghana, and Sandra Mote, whose open door and listening ear gave Ashley great insights during her senior year.
Ashley is spending her last semester working with high-risk infants in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Her time in Ghana taught her that she wanted to work with infants rather than mothers, so she is planning on continuing to work in a NICU after graduation…either in NH or somewhere warm. From performing checkups on her dolls as a child to delivering babies in Africa, Ashley has definitely created her own story here at UNH.