Ashley NickelsAshley Nickels is not daunted by a challenge.  This past fall, the public affairs doctoral student had papers accepted at three academic conferences – the Northeastern Political Science Association Annual Conference, the American Public Policy Analysis and Management Fall Research Conference, and the Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology Annual Conference.  In addition to her own coursework, her duties as a graduate assistant, and the responsibilities that come with her position as a part-time lecturer, Ashley had to travel all over the country in a span of a month and a half in order to participate at these conferences.  Needless to say, she took it in stride and did a fantastic job.

The Michigan native, who received a master’s degree in public administration from Grand Valley State University, knew she wanted to go further in her education and earn her Ph.D. in a field that connected her interests in community psychology and the effect policies and institutions have on individuals.  Rutgers-Camden attracted her attention because of its multi-disciplinary approach in the field of public affairs, a program that intersects government, community, and advocacy.  “Rutgers-Camden is unique because of its interdisciplinary approach and its location,” Ashley says.  She wanted to be able to engage with the community, and she relished the opportunity that Rutgers-Camden would provide to her as a place to learn from and work with the citizens of Camden.

Ashley began her doctoral study in Fall 2011, and she was quickly impressed by the program, which accepted its first cohort in Fall 2010.  As Ashley says, “the challenges of a new program come with great opportunity,” citing the chance to design the program to fit her research interests and the fact that the faculty works with students very closely.  Ashley states, “the level of connectedness we have with our faculty is invaluable.”  In particular, Ashley has worked with Dr. Marie Chevrier, Professor of Public Policy and Administration, and Dr. Michael Fortner, Assistant Professor of Political Science.  She serves as Dr. Chevrier’s graduate assistant; in turn, Dr. Chevrier has become a mentor to Ashley, guiding her on how to teach and conduct research, and encouraging her in her work. Ashley also worked as a summer research associate for Dr. Fortner.  One of their collaborative projects, “Principles, Prejudice, and Policies: The Historical Institutional Roots of White Attitudes,” was accepted for presentation at the Northeastern Political Science Association Annual Conference in the fall.  Ashley plans on pursuing further partnerships with Dr. Fortner, and is in the process of informally drafting her dissertation proposal on the impact of municipal takeovers on urban democracy, a subject about which Dr. Fortner is knowledgeable.

Ashley also had a chance to share her wisdom with the students of Rutgers-Camden, teaching a class for the urban studies program called The Role of Organizations in Urban Communities.  While at Grand Valley State University, Ashley taught courses like Introduction to Public Administration and Volunteerism and the Nonprofit Sector, and she was excited to get back in the classroom.  She finds teaching challenging, but also rewarding, and enjoys seeing her students thrive and, in some cases, pursue advanced degrees. 

Though the semester is coming to a close and she certainly deserves a break, Ashley’s diligence and work ethic won’t let her lay low for too long.  She has a busy spring planned with a heavy courseload, and she plans to seek out more academic conferences in which to present her work.  Her future is bright, and Rutgers-Camden is glad to be part of her rise to the top.

About Ashley Nickels

Hometown: Grand Rapids, MI  

Graduate Program: Public Affairs

Expected Graduate School-Camden Graduation Date: 2014