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Exploring interests leads to new career path

July 09, 2013
How fitting that Higher Education Fellow Ashley Bragger spent her residency working to improve student career preparation at Northern Essex Community College as a member of one of the college’s Strategic Goal teams.

After graduating from Bentley University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in corporate finance and accounting and a master’s degree in taxation, Ashley worked for a couple of years at a regional public accounting firm. But unlike her co-workers, Ashley questioned her career path and knew she needed to make a change.

Fortunately, a friend suggested she talk to Kathy Vaillancourt, the Assistant Director of Merrimack’s Office of Experiential Learning. Together they explored Ashley’s interests and career options in education that leveraged her business background. Kathy encouraged Ashley to consider Merrimack’s Higher Education Fellowship opportunity. Ashley recounts her decision to join the fellowship and pursue a Master’s in Education (M.Ed), “I was nervous to leave my job and give up an income. I liked the fast pace of my job and the work, but I did not share the same level of passion for tax accounting that my co-workers possessed. I haven’t looked back once. I’ve had the most amazing experience. I have worked with supportive and collaborative colleagues at Northern Essex Community College, including my supervisor and mentor, Dawna Perez; and I have spent each week in class with a cohort of incredible, dedicated classmates who all share their diverse experiences with one other.” 

Northern Essex Community College is a state-assisted, two-year accredited college, serving 15,000 individuals who study full-or part-time on campuses in Haverhill and Lawrence, Massachusetts. The average age ranges from 25 for day students to 31 for evening students who enroll in traditional college programs with the intent to transfer to a four-year institution after graduation or in an associate degree or certificate program leading to employment in specialized career fields.


Ashley’s fellowship at Northern Essex Community College provided her with hands-on experience in a wide array of critical administrative skills: researching best-practices, evaluating organizational structures, program development and implementation, trend analysis, strategic planning, web site development, and more that will serve her well as she forges a career in higher education. Ashley is passionate about working with the diverse population of students in a community college setting and building bridges with local community members and employers. In fact, she is continuing on with Northern Essex on a contract basis after graduation while she pursues the next step in her career. 

What do Higher Education Fellows do?

Higher Education Fellows work with organizational partners to support core programs, serve student and institutional needs, and build capacity in organizations ranging from MGH Institute of Health Care Professionals to Massachusetts Campus Compact to Northern Essex Community College. Previous projects have included:

• Evaluating the design and implementation of a hybrid-and distance-learning program

• Designing a systematic evaluation plan for student support services across multiple offices and departments

• Supporting the development and implementation of professional growth programs for instructors

• Researching and compiling best practices to support the launch of a higher education Teaching and Learning Center

• Building capacity for development and fundraising

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    Ashley Bragger, M’13 Higher Education Fellow

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