Alcorn Legacy student succeeds against odds

Dennis Wayne Ashley Sr. ’97 and Etta Kizart Ashley ’94 met on the campus of Alcorn State University during their undergraduate studies. Their son, Dennis Ashley Jr., will graduate on Saturday.

Dennis, an agricultural science major, hails from Arlington, Tex. When choosing a university to obtain his undergraduate degree, Alcorn was his first choice.

“I’ve always wanted to attend, ever since I thought about going to college,” said Ashley. I love the family atmosphere and how you feel as though you’re a part of a community. This was my parents’ alma mater, and they would always bring us to football games. I fell in love with the essence and aura of Alcorn.”

While Etta will sit proudly in the stands on May 11, Dennis Sr. will be present in spirit. During his time at the University, Dennis Jr. lost his father, whom he remembers as one of his biggest supporters. Dennis Sr., who had a passion for math, computers, and politics, established his career at AirBus Helicopters where he developed computer programs for the Navy ERP program. A sophomore at the time of his father’s passing, Dennis Jr. remembers the moment as an extremely difficult time in his academic career.

“It was devastating,” he said.

Against the odds, Dennis persevered to successfully complete his studies while being an active part of the campus community. During his time in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, he conducted research under the guidance of Dr. Melissa Mason, associate professor of Animal Science and director of the University’s Center for Ruminant Research. He was also active in the Animal Science Club, Brave Solutions, MANRRS, GQ Modeling Squad, the National Society of Leadership and Success, Student Support Services, ASU Heroes, and Men’s Company.

Upon graduation, Dennis plans to further his education in a graduate degree program at Tuskegee University, where he will pursue his dream of becoming a veterinarian.

He credits Dr. Tabitha Smith, assistant professor of Education/MAT coordinator, as instrumental in his success.

“I met Dr. Smith on Monday, August 23, 2021,” he said. “Little did I know how much of an impact she would have on my life. Ever since that day, she continuously inspires me and everyone who has ever had her as a teacher. People like that are one in a million and rare to find.”

Dr. Smith reflected on Dennis as a concerned student who visited her office often.

“Dennis Ashley has truly excelled as a student here at Alcorn State University, and I couldn’t be prouder of all his accomplishments,” said Dr. Smith. I wish him continued success in all his future endeavors,” she smiled.

Dennis also acknowledges his family, friends, and loved ones, including his sisters Catina and Cierra, and especially his mother.

“We’ve been through a lot together, and the road hasn’t been easy ever,” he said. “Nonetheless, you have been by my side every step of the way, and I’m beyond grateful and proud to say I have the best mother alive.”

Dennis fondly reflects on the close-knit campus community as one of the best aspects of Alcorn.

“The friendships I’ve made over the years, having people who I have grown close with and made forever bonds with,” said Ashley.

He would encourage prospective students to attend the University, saying, “Going to an HBCU was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. I would highly recommend going to Alcorn because you feel like it’s a big family away from home and you will never be lonely. You have teachers, administrators, and staff who want to see you succeed and go far in life.”

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