Class of 2020: Inspiration from her middle school teacher drew Ashley Yanego to agricultural education and public service
“My college experience has made me mature enough to handle opportunities that come my way. Everything that I've learned so far, it wasn't to get me graduation. It was to push me to be better and able to handle what comes next,” said Ashley Yanego.
Ashley Yanego can’t help but smile when she thinks back on one of her favorite memories as a Hokie Ambassador tour guide.
“One time, we were walking under an arch by a residence hall and someone shouted ‘Let’s Go!’ from a window up high from one of the halls,” said Yanego, a graduating senior. “Everyone was frantically – and awkwardly – looking around and I had to shout ‘Hokies!’ by myself. I love this part of the tour because the group realizes that we have a great community at Virginia Tech.”
As a first-generation college student, Yanego wanted to make the college admissions process easier for prospective students, a motivating factor in her becoming a Hokie Ambassador.
“There were questions I should have asked, but I just didn’t know what to ask at the time. I like being able to share my experiences, give them resources that can provide them with valuable information, and answer any questions they have so they can make an informed decision,” Yanego said. “Being a Hokie Ambassador has been one of my favorite experiences.”
A road less traveled
Education wasn’t emphasized for her growing up and college was not something that was discussed in childhood. In middle school, Yanego took an agricultural education class that changed her life – not only because of the topic but also because of her teacher.
“I had an awesome teacher that supported me through a lot of things, but especially in Future Farmers of America,” Yanego said. “Because of my teacher, I was able to go to my first state convention, held at Virginia Tech, and that was my first experience on a college campus. I was truly inspired by my agriculture teachers and how they mentored me in FFA.”
“That’s when I knew I wanted to be a teacher and when I knew I needed to go to college,” said Yanego, an agricultural sciences major in the Department of Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education.
While at Virginia Tech, Yanego had the support of a multitude of scholarships, including the O. Beverly Roller Scholarship and the TJ Wakeman Scholarship. The generous support of donors allowed Yanego the opportunity to maximize her experiences as a Hokie.
Through all of her involvement, Yanego left her mark. She relished the opportunities available to her at Virginia Tech, becoming involved with The Big Event, Technotes A Cappella, Hokie Camp leader, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences peer mentor, orientation team member, welcome week leader, first-year leadership experience, and state president of the Virginia FFA Association in her gap year prior to attending Virginia Tech. On top of that, she was a substitute teacher in Montgomery and Shenandoah counties for two years.
Yanego gleaned additional experiences by working in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the Office of Communications and Marketing as an intern, giving her a whole new set of skills utilizing social media platforms and the power of imagery.
Through each of the positions that Yanego had, complacency never set in.
“Each job pushed me harder, to become more and to see what I could achieve. I had a goal coming into college, and I wanted to do everything I could to get there. All of the experiences I've had at Virginia Tech have been relatable experiences to the career I want and some of those opportunities aren't available elsewhere,” Yanego said. “And the community – that definitely isn’t anywhere else.”
The wheel turns ‘round
Back to that middle school teacher.
The assistance Yanego received from her teacher set her down her current path and led her right back to the very same classroom. That teacher, Jaclyn Ryan, stepped down from her position to pursue opportunities outside of teaching, which created an opening as an agriculture teacher at Yanego’s former middle school. After debating whether or not to apply because it would mean graduating early and leaving the community she loves, Yanego applied, knowing that opportunities like this don’t happen often.
And she got the job.
“It came back full circle because now I’m in her position. I'll be right back in the classroom that I sat in, doing the same thing for my future students,” Yanego said. “It’s really exciting and overwhelming at the same time.”
The moment that Yanego got the job offered her clarity on her path.
“It was at that moment when I realized why I went to Virginia Tech and why I was involved all of the organizations on campus,” Yanego said. “My college experience has made me mature enough to handle opportunities that come my way. Everything that I've learned so far, it wasn't to get me graduation. It was to push me to be better and able to handle what comes next.”
What’s next is to be a mentor for students — just like what was done for her.
-Written by Max Esterhuizen