Class of 2023: Ashley Family Cherishes UAlbany Community

A family of six siblings and a mother and father celebrate commencement outdoors as two of the children where graduation regalia.
The Ashley family, including 2023 graduates Henry and Charlotte, now boasts five alumni with more on the way. (Photo by Paul Miller)

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 16, 2023) — For Class of 2023 members Charlotte and Henry Ashley, graduating from UAlbany is definitely a family occasion. Now the pair join their father and older brothers as alumni, with a world of opportunities before them.

Enrolling in 2019, Charlotte Ashley wasn’t sure at first if following in their brothers’ footsteps was the right decision, given how much larger UAlbany was compared to their high school, Loudonville Christian.

“It was a big change from the environment I knew, but the campus tour guides and prospective students were all so friendly that, despite my anxiety, UAlbany felt warm,” said Charlotte. “I didn't have to be scared.”

Joining the Musical Theatre Association during their first semester, Charlotte was given the opportunity to play Little Red Riding Hood in the production of Into the Woods. The opportunity set the stage for Charlotte to explore additional arts and humanities offerings available at UAlbany.

"I took part in an Independent Study class with Art History professors Sarah R. Cohen and Amy Bloch in the fall of 2022,” continued Charlotte. “A small group of art history students, including myself, researched the mural paintings in the Milne 200 building on the downtown campus.”

Created from 1929 and 1935 by artists David Cunningham Lithgow and Bertel Thorvaldsen, the murals document New York history, while the friezes depict scenes of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Babylonia.

“We each wrote label texts to address the problematic elements of the murals and longer texts for an informative booklet,” said Charlotte. “We hope that our contributions allow the room to be used again and help people understand the historical context that created the murals while still acknowledging that the murals' messages don't accurately reflect the values of UAlbany and its students today.”

For Henry, the opportunity to gain research experience was a big factor in his decision to enroll.

“My first summer (2020) was the beginning of the pandemic, so everything was online,” said Henry. “Nonetheless, I ended up getting a paid undergraduate research position in remote sensing. It wasn't for me, so the next year, I began research on superheated water in the Physics Department. I worked as a peer tutor in physics for one semester, then in math for three. I volunteered as a student ambassador for CURCE, helping introduce new undergraduate students to UAlbany's research culture.”

Henry points to his time in Physics, studying with associate professors Oleg Lunin and Jesse Ernst, as particularly inspirational. His next step is starting a PhD in mathematics at UAlbany.

For dad Chris and mom Maria, they have embraced UAlbany as a second home, though they let their children forge their own pathways to success.

After earning his master’s degree in public health at UAlbany in 2002, Chris Ashley completed the residency in public health and preventive medicine jointly administered by the University’s School of Public Health and the New York State Department of Health.

Still, when it came time for their children to select a college, Chris and Maria definitely encouraged their children to explore UAlbany and all it had to offer.

“The more we knew about UAlbany the better our experiences became,” said the elder Ashley, now chief of medicine at Stratton VA Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at Albany Medical College. “Yes, it’s a huge campus with unimaginable depth of resources but it’s composed of myriad intimate communities where our children were able to find mentors, role models, friends and where they never ran out of options.”

In addition to Charlotte and Henry, the Ashley family has seen older brothers James and Teddy earn their bachelor's degrees from UAlbany, while younger brother Quintin is a declared atmospheric and environmental sciences major and just finishing his first year.

Will there eventually be a sixth Great Dane among the Ashley siblings?

“Our sixth is a junior in high school and just preparing to make her college choice,” said Chris. “No pressure.”

With diverse learning experiences, each member of the Ashley family also has their own unique advice for the students who will one day follow in their footsteps across the graduation stage.

“My advice is to talk to your professors and visit their office hours,” said Henry. “If you plan on eventually going to graduate school, these are important connections to form.”

Charlotte encourages each student to find their own voice and pace that makes sense for them as individuals.

“My advice for future students is not to be afraid. When I started college, I was terrified because I felt so much pressure to decide on my future right away,” said Charlotte. “I was so uncomfortable with not knowing what I wanted to do in the future that I couldn't enjoy or concentrate on what I was doing in the present.”

But finding the right pace made all the difference.

“Don't worry about what other students are doing,” they said. “In my last few semesters, I was a part-time student. … Being a part-time student gave me more time to do the things I wanted to do and more time to figure out what I actually liked doing.”

Charlotte also credits Disability Access and Inclusion Student Services with guiding their path to success.

For Chris, his advice to students is to take advantage of all that UAlbany has to offer.

“Public education works. There are amazing faculty here waiting to mentor your kids. It is accessible. It has resources for students who need accommodations, academic assistance and financial aid,” said the elder Ashley. “In four years you will never be able to fully explore all that UAlbany has to offer and when it’s all over you won’t be carrying around educational debt the size of a mortgage that will impact every decision you make for the next 10-plus years. If you’re a top scholar you will thrive, if you’re a student who needs remediation or accommodation UAlbany has the resources to get you through. It’s an incredible community where you can get involved, try something new every day, and explore the limits of your potential.”