Academic Excellence from the Big Apple: Gator Graduates with Honors while living and working in NYC

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When Ashley Pria Persaud was young, she watched the movie “13 Going on 30” and fell in love with the New York City lifestyle. She dreamed that one day, she would be the one walking through the city’s crowded streets to get to work in her skyscraper office.

Fast forward to age 25, and today Persaud looks out at the New York skyline from her office on the 35th floor of the Empire State Building, where she works for Human Rights Watch.

Persaud said she would not have been able to pursue her dream of working in New York, New York if she had not taken classes with UF Online. This spring commencement, she graduates from the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a bachelor’s in sociology with honors and a 4.0 GPA.

“It’s been tremendous being able to be in New York City exactly where I want to be with a phenomenal organization and not have to worry about going to class,” Persaud said.

The Orlando native began her college education at Valencia College in 2011 as a political science major. After two years, the plan was to transfer to UF, but an opportunity to join AmeriCorps led her career path in a different direction.

Through AmeriCorps, Persaud worked closely with younger, inner-city students while finding new ways to foster community engagement in Orlando and New York. She loved that she could travel and do hands-on work, but she knew she wanted to go back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree.

“I wanted to learn about the community I was serving and the injustices that are happening,” Persaud said. “I wanted a classroom experience without having to be there.”

Persaud enrolled in UF Online in 2017. Taking flexible virtual classes freed up time in her schedule to also intern with UNICEF USA and Human Rights Watch in New York, where she was offered a full-time position after her internship ended.

Persaud’s experience with AmeriCorps, combined with the knowledge acquired from her coursework, helped her realize her desire to learn more about racial justice and gender equality. While she studied minorities in America and strategies for combatting discrimination, she delved into the issues and potential solutions through her internships.

During her time with Human Rights Watch, Persaud worked on the program engagement team in the Development and Global Initiatives department. Through this role, she planned and executed educational field missions for the organization’s leading supporters. On these trips, members were able to shadow researchers in the field to learn about national and international injustices.

One of Persaud’s favorite trips that she planned was a field mission to Alabama. Members attended an event where a report was released focusing on racial disparities that exist in women’s health in the U.S. In planning the trip, Persaud found herself reflecting on lessons about racial disparity that she had learned in her “Minorities in America” class.

“The best part is having the opportunity to relate schooling and academic work to what I was doing,” Persaud said. “I wouldn’t have had the opportunity at this capacity if I were at school in person.”

After graduation, Persaud will continue to work for Human Rights Watch as an assistant on the creative services team. She plans to use her degree in sociology and her field experience to help create and distribute content to educate the public on human rights advocacy.

“It’s really important to give back to the world,” Persaud said. “You get out what you put in, and putting in good will produce good. Even if my impact is small, I will be happy knowing that I provided a foundation for the next, as the ones before did for me.”

Story by Alexandria Ng. Photos by Ashley Pria Persaud


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