Pace student Ashley Small ’14 has something most people in the Pace Community don’t have—top secret clearance.
While many undergraduate students come to Pace straight from high school, Small anchored here a very different way.
After graduating from high school, she began attending college and found that it was hard to afford. Trying to find a way to go to school and pay for it at the same time, Small joined the U.S. Navy.
When she first met her recruiter, she had to take a basic understanding test—comprising divisions in mechanics, common sense, electronics, and engineering—to determine which jobs she qualified for. Small scored a 96.
After attending bootcamp, which she recalls “was easy after living with my overprotective parents,” Small boarded the U.S.S. Truman.
“I was on a 5,000-man aircraft carrier,” she says. “An aircraft carrier has two missions: to launch and to recover aircrafts. I was the person who recovered the pilot and centered them to land on the ship.”
In addition to landing planes, Small found time to work on a variety of projects during her five years with the Navy. She was responsible for the upkeep and upgrading of the IFLOLS system, a $874,000 improved Fresnel lens optical landing system which she needed a top secret clearance to record confidential footage, training new electricians on the operation of shipboard fiber optic cables, lasers, and interior electronics, and supervising 12 team members, among other tasks—all while traveling around the world from Greece to Italy to Bahrain to Dubai.
“They break up shifts, 12 on and 12 off,” Small says. “It’s a self-sustaining community, so if the place catches fire, we’re the fire department.”
During her 12 hours off, she found herself taking cameras apart and putting them back together, and her passion for photography—which goes hand-in-hand with her career in marketing—flourished.
“Growing up, my parents didn’t allow us to have cable and we lived a sort of sheltered childhood because my parents were from Jamaica and didn’t know American society,” Small says. “One day I got home a little early and my brother’s Rolling Stone was there. And that’s where I discovered girls could pierce their ears, hair gel, everything. I fell in love with marketing. It changed everything for me.”
After two deployments, where she also completed her first two years of college on board the ship, Small returned stateside and began attending the University of North Carolina. During her first year, her military roommate moved to New York in search of a good nursing school. Helping her with research, Small came across Pace.
“I fell in love with Pace,” she says. “UNC only gives its first 10 veterans full aid and then covers 20% of the cost of attendance. Pace gives 100%.”
Selected by G.I. Jobs magazine as a Military Friendly School for 2014, an honor awarded to only 15% of all colleges, universities, and trade schools nationwide, Pace’s commitment to veteran education is evident. In addition to need-based financial aid and benefits offered by the G.I. Bill, Pace provides financial assistance through the Veterans Scholarship, which can cover half of undergraduate and graduate students’ tuition, as well as the Yellow Ribbon Program, which offers full tuition coverage.
Since arriving at Pace, Small has turned her passion into a likely profession. The Lubin BBA in Advertising student is not only excelling academically, but professionally and socially, serving as the Public Relations Officer for the Pace Student Veterans of America, participating in Ascend business organization and the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ Shades Initiative, and being inducted into Sigma Iota Epsilon, the premier honorary and professional fraternal organization in management.
She also finds time to visit the No Veteran Alone-VA Hospital in Brooklyn, where she reads, plays music and cards, and serves as a companion for terminally ill veterans, something that stemmed from an injury of her own.
“I got knocked off the flight deck and got hurt and was going to physical therapy every Friday and acupuncture,” she says. “When I was in the hospital, there were a lot of people who weren’t going to leave and were by themselves. I didn’t go there with the intention to volunteer, but it worked out.”
While her connection to the military will always remain, Small’s future is in advertising. She hopes to hit it big in fashion marketing and possibly work for one of her favorite clothing companies, like Zara. “I want to hit someone the way Rolling Stone has hit me,” she says.