HawkStrong: From three-time college dropout to HFC Honors student

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A headshot of Ashley Trent.

By her own admission, Ashley Trent has never been a good student. Until she came to HFC.

“The faculty here is so encouraging. They want me to shoot as far as I can. I’m aiming for Jupiter,” said Trent, of Wyandotte.

The professors who’ve had a positive impact on her include:

“I’ve had a really good experience at HFC,” said Trent. “These are all people who have become my mentors. I’ll ask for their advice on things. I fell in love with school because of them.”

Getting a second chance at HFC

The eldest of two siblings, Trent dropped out of high school due to emotional difficulties and eventually earned her GED. She tried her hand at higher education, eventually enrolling in three different colleges. But she never completed a single semester at any of them.

That changed when she came to HFC. After working various jobs, she decided to give education another shot during the coronavirus pandemic.

“When I found my place downriver, things fell into place for me. I got more confident,” recalled Trent, who shares custody of her 6-year-old son Layne (named after the late Layne Staley, the original lead singer of Alice in Chains) with her ex. “When the pandemic hit, I thought, ‘If we’re all going to be sitting around anyway, I might as well try to do this.’ I thought I’d keep my head down and try to get my degree.” She added with a laugh: “Now, I’m being interviewed for being an outstanding student.”

Trent, who taught herself some Photoshop skills, is majoring in graphic design at HFC with a projected graduation date of 2024. She is also a member of the Henry Ford II Honors Program.

“An associate degree in graphic design has a pretty good median income range,” said Trent. “I feel like the difference at HFC is the faculty and staff have spoken to me with respect. That’s been my experience here at HFC. Dr. Kim is so chill. Professor Shepherd treats people like colleagues and not students or underlings. Dr. Harvell is a force to be reckoned with. I wish he were my dad. And I can’t live without Dr. Hazlett. We’re a lot alike.”

Not planning to leave College any time soon

Although she has participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program – a partnership between HFC and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor – Trent doesn’t currently plan to transfer after graduating from HFC. In fact, she would like to remain at HFC and earn another associate degree in sociology.

“I just want to grow old at HFC. I love it here and now I want to earn 1,000 degrees! I love this school so much that my 6-year-old is going to have to drag me out of HFC when he’s 40!” she said, laughing. “I could move on to another university, but only if I reach the ceiling at HFC. I’d try to stay involved with our fine establishment as much as possible.”

One of Trent’s favorite classes at HFC was College Writing and Research, which was taught by King.

“Ashley modeled humility and respect and growth while we talked about our course’s novels and the real-world issues that were portrayed in the texts, which encouraged others to do the same,” said King. “She led the way in making our class a community, even though we were on Zoom, by calling other students by name to ask their opinions during the discussions and asking them to repeat their breakout contributions to the whole class. I can only imagine her effect on an in-person class. She'd be the one to suggest that everyone meet for dinner after class.”

Added Shepherd: “Ashley has been an intriguing addition to classes. She’s never afraid to speak up, help her peers, or share her own experiences as a designer. She challenges the status quo in the curriculum. She is thoughtful and caring in both word and design solutions, diving into the deeper implications of design as a solution for problems. I enjoy watching Ashley bloom as her world expands through her involvement on campus and through other available opportunities. Ashley can shake up the class, which is a good thing!”

Enrolling in the Honors Program

Due to her success in ENG 132, King told Trent she was going to nominate her for the Honors Program.

“I was like, ‘Okay, I guess.’ I didn’t know what that entailed. I thought the Honors Program was a bunch of people drinking wine and reading books,” she said, laughing.

Meeting Hazlett dynamited that perception. Not only did Trent join the Honors Program, she also created an informal logo. Her next goal is to start an honors merchandise store.

“There’s so much psychology to a logo, because people want to be engaged. There needs to be a positive association with what it’s representing. I’m seeing it on laptops, which seems surreal because I made it,” she explained.

Hazlett recommended Trent read the announcements at February’s HFC Board of Trustees meeting. There, she gave a sticker of the new logo to HFC President Russell Kavalhuna.

“It was a point of pride for me. I told him, ‘This is given to you by its creator, you should be starstruck,’” she recalled, laughing. “I wanted to meet the trustees. I wanted to see what the inner structure of the College is like. I stayed for the whole meeting. It was interesting to me. I enjoyed it. Student involvement in the inner workings of an establishment is important. It's good to know what’s going on. I also got complimented by the entire Board, which was awesome.”

“There’s a passion here at HFC that I didn’t see at other schools”

One of her professional goals is to focus on marketing and branding.

“There are so many ways a bad logo will not entice people,” she said. “I want to help people by giving them opportunities to get them to where they should be in life.”

“Ashley – or ‘Ash’ as she is sometimes called – was a student in my Honors Colloquium course on Detroit history and culture,” recalled Kim. “Ash’s upbeat and outgoing nature, empathy for others, wit, humor, and ability to connect her experiences with the class material made her a joy to have in class.”

Trent has been encouraging many people she knows to start over again at HFC. It gave her a second chance, for which she’ll always be grateful.

“I was not only lucky that HFC has supportive faculty, but being a non-traditional student gives me an advantage. I’m not afraid to speak up and build rapport. I wish younger students understood the vast amount of resources they have here at their disposal. HFC is a good place to be. It’s amazing to be part of something where the people here care about the establishment instead of being blasé. There’s a passion here at HFC that I didn’t see at other schools. I want to be a part of making HFC better.”

“Ashley is an exemplary student. She is creative, curious, and caring. These are three qualities that will serve her well in whatever she does,” said Hazlett. “She is a mentor and role model for the first-year honors students. They look up to her and respect what she has to say. This is because she cares about them and this College. I’m glad she joined the honors program. We are better for having her.”

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