Ashlie Grasa

Ashlie Grasa graduated Gateway in 2016 with associate degrees in Natural Science and Mathematics and Engineering, and a certificate in Computer-Assisted Design. Her past journey was challenging, but the road ahead had more obstacles.

When Ashlie was 4, a family tragedy sent her to live with a series of relatives in different states. She remained somewhat “nomadic”: living in Australia as an exchange student and in Hawaii with her fiancé. Researching stateside colleges, the couple chose Connecticut for its diversity and academic opportunities. Ashlie enrolled at Gateway because it was affordable, accessible by public transportation, and offered many degrees. She received Pell grants and GCC Foundation scholarships, including Curran and Laptop scholarships. She also worked in GCC’s Development and Community Partnerships Office and ended up paying nothing out-of-pocket for tuition. Ashlie transferred to the University of Massachusetts (Lowell), earning a bachelor’s degree in Nuclear Engineering in June. Hers isn’t a “Cinderella story,” however. While she got grants and scholarships at UMass, she couldn’t afford both out-of-state tuition and housing after her first year. She lived in her car for the next three years, showering and changing in the gymnasium. During cold weather, she often slept in the school’s Radiation Laboratory, where she worked full time.

“I got a great education at GCC, and it contributed to my life experience.”

Ashlie Grasa

In 2018, Ashlie was named among UMass Lowell’s first Oprah Winfrey Scholars, funded by a $1.5 million matching gift from the entertainment mogul and philanthropist. (See photo from award ceremony.) Although the $2,500 a semester helped financially, she still graduated with $48,000 in student loans. She’s moving to Cincinnati, where she’ll live with her grandfather and continue job hunting. While she received an offer from the University of Utah, she’s focusing on finding her “dream job” as a health physicist.

Looking back, Ashlie sees her time at Gateway as academically and personally fulfilling. “I got a great education at GCC, and it contributed to my life experience,” she explains. “I felt more comfortable with students like me, who had personal challenges.”

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