Alumni Tale: Ashlei Laing ’07

What did you study at UNH?

Studio Art: Ceramics, and Education

What were you doing 1 year out of college?

I was working at a Sparhawk School, a small, private, alternative education Pre-k – 12 school in Amesbury, MA. I wore many hats there from after-school programming, to administration, to substitute and visiting artist. In the summer I was traveling to the rural Tuscan countryside as a Raku ceramics apprentice. Learning Italian, practicing and selling ceramics.

What were you doing 5 years out of college?

I was serving as an U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Bulgaria/Eastern Europe. I served as a TEFL, and through that I was mainly focused on teachers leadership and educational development. However, I worked on many smaller projects that were community driven such as: Leadership Academy GLOW (girls leading our world), grants, environmental projects, after-school/extra curricular programs.
I was also taking certificate courses in Permaculture and preparing my thoughts to build an educational and healing center based on its ethics: Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share.

What were you doing 10 years out of college?

10 yrs out, I was enrolled as a Peace Corps fellows at Future Generations Graduate Program. There I was working on a practicum project based in rural Tuscany researching the effects the application of Permaculture would have on aiding agrotourism and family farms. Through the curriculum of this program I was brought to study very rural communities in India, Nepal, the US and unofficially Namibia.

What are you doing now?

Currently, I have moved back to the states after having lived abroad for about 6 years. I am based in southern, rural Tennessee. Here is where I have decided to bring all of the ‘pieces of the puzzle” together and start the very first tangible steps of creating a university based in environmental and social justice.
Along my journey I have seen many, many examples of what a very alternative school looks like in higher education. I’m making many small steps daily to get to know and work with a great community of folks to bring the best, most unique features of these schools back here to Tennessee.
My partner and I personally fund this work through contracted work with our co-directed consulting firm Empyrean Research. We have worked with NorthEastern University, Georgia College and United States Institute of Peace.
We hope to continue to build partnerships, but to really push the focus of our work on bringing the skills we have built working abroad in development and peace building back home. This will be a two-fold effort. Our goal is to have an eco-campus here in Tennessee for students and staff in the fall terms, for the spring terms we hope to have established satellite campuses / partnerships  to send groups of students to. We are considering different options for accreditation and retro-active tuition.
Our next steps include starting a non-profit. We hope to begin inviting investors to join and get involved. As well, launching our very first pilot course/ tour group in India this coming February!! This we are very excited for and hope you will join or follow us! We also have our first curriculum
outlined as a trial masters program. However, we intend to be a multi-generational and diverse group of undergraduate students in the future.
As for our work here on the ground, I have spent the last 9 months creating a community workshop center and community garden. We plan for this to be the growing and connecting point to our local community here. A center goal of our University is to commit to cultivating a solid and rooted connection with our local community.

Did you have an international experience (study, research, internship or volunteer abroad) while at UNH?

Yes, a bit unofficially. I inadvertently became involved with the international community through outside environmental activism with Surfrider Foundation. Through this group I was
connected with a ceramicist in Tuscany post graduation.

How do you feel your time at UNH has had an impact on where you are today?

I feel that it has impacted the place I am today through the people and professors I met who were always doing many great things. The challenges that arose in transferring to UNH gave me a lot of extra study on how bureaucratic systems work and possibly sparked an interest about alternative models, change and progression. I was able to find a wide array of subjects to study that offered valuable view points that I might not have otherwise considered.

Why do you believe in UNH?

I believe UNH has a good foundation. It offers a variety of educational opportunities to help broaden young minds, hopefully inspiring them to go out into the world. I think there is a lot of work to still be done on the educational front, UNH is working to progress and move into those spaces.