Outstanding Graduate Ashley Brosius: College of Arts & Sciences

Advocating for women in the classroom, in the courtroom

Ashley Brosius’ “Catalysts for Change” program introduced high school girls to STEM fields.
Ashley Brosius’ “Catalysts for Change” program introduced high school girls to STEM fields.

Ashley Brosius arrived at Washington University in St. Louis as a freshman with “everything mapped out.” She would major in biology and political science with dreams of medical school.

But her passion soon rerouted her plans.

During her first semester, Brosius, of Moline, Ill., enrolled in a “Women in Science” first-year FOCUS program, which examined the challenges faced by women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Brosius also took the companion course, “Introduction to Women and Gender Studies.”

Both courses “swept me off my feet,” Brosius says, prompting her to rethink and ultimately alter her academic plans.

“I hadn’t really had much exposure to feminist discourse,” says Brosius, who will graduate May 18 with a bachelor’s degree in women, gender, and sexuality studies, anthropology and political science, all in Arts & Sciences. “During those classes, I saw connections in the classroom to anything I might want do in the future.”

Despite the change in major, Brosius’ enthusiasm for science never faded. In 2010, she found a way to blend both interests. During her junior year, Brosius co-wrote and received a grant from the American Association for University Women to design and implement a program called “Catalysts for Change,” which aimed to introduce local female high school students to STEM fields.

Through Catalysts for Change — which was co-organized by Brosius and took place on campus on consecutive spring Saturdays in 2011 and ’12 — WUSTL faculty and students led high school students in interactive experiments, including launching egg rockets, making liquid nitrogen ice cream, and using forensic science to solve a “mystery.”

“The high school students were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the program,” says Barbara Baumgartner, PhD, a senior lecturer in women, gender, and sexuality studies who helped coordinate Catalysts for Change.

“Because of Ashley’s initiative, 50 high school girls, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, were exposed to a vibrant college campus, fascinating science experiments and an impressive array of women scientists.”

According to Brosius, the experience was rewarding for the WUSTL students who participated, too.

“It was exciting for us to develop leadership and mentoring skills and interact with individuals outside of the campus community,” she says.

In addition to Brosius’ activities on campus — including serving as a student representative to the Board of Trustees and member of the First-Year Center Executive Board — she also immersed herself into the St. Louis community.

Through a service-learning component of the course “Violence Against Women,” Brosius volunteered as an advocate at the St. Louis County Domestic Violence Court. She continued to volunteer after the class ended and was named the court’s Advocate of the Year for 2010-11. Brosius’ senior thesis focused on the impact of gender on domestic violence court outcomes.

As a volunteer advocate, Brosius assisted domestic violence victims/survivors filing for orders of protection. She also provided resources and safety planning and conducted follow-up calls.

“It’s obviously challenging to hear the experiences some individuals in the community have had,” Brosius says, “but it’s very rewarding to have the opportunity to help connect people with resources to continue to enhance their safety.”

Jami Ake, PhD, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and Brosius’ thesis adviser, says that Brosius’ focus is more than academic — Brosius is committed to social justice.

“Her studies are more than abstract intellectual exploration, but rather part of an ongoing effort to find ways to remove barriers to people’s health, safety and freedoms,” Ake says.

“Ashley always approaches her work with the greatest humility and compassion,” Ake says. “She isn’t someone who thinks she already has all of the answers — or even all of the questions — a quality that will serve her well in her future work.”

This fall, Brosius will begin law school at the University of Iowa and plans to focus on family and child law. Brosius credits the opportunities she has had at WUSTL with helping her find and pursue what she’s truly passionate about.

“I’ve learned a lot inside the classroom, but it’s my experiences outside the classroom that helped to shape my time here — hearing the stories and experiences of other students, faculty and individuals in the community,” she says.

“Being engaged on campus and in the community helped me grow as an individual and discover what I really wanted to do.”