By VCU Alumni Relations
When Ashley Bland (B.S.’13, M.Ed.’16, Cert.’23) entered VCU as a first-generation college student, she didn’t plan to become a teacher. She double-majored in biomedical engineering and physics to prepare for a career in STEM.
While earning her degree, Bland served as chair for a pre-college initiative of the VCU chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers. She worked with middle school and high school students in metro Richmond, encouraging them to pursue STEM fields. “That was my first experience getting to work with kids,” Bland says. “I was passionate about sharing these concepts.”
When some of the students decided to study engineering in college, she realized the impact she could have on young people. One of Bland’s professors recognized her avid interest in working with students and suggested she consider VCU’s teacher residency master’s program, which trains and supports teachers for high-need and hard-to-staff schools.
Bland graduated from the program in 2016 and taught middle school math in the Richmond Public Schools system for three years. In early 2020, Bland was named instructional facilitator for TechConnect, an afterschool program to teach middle-school students technology skills. Soon after, COVID-19 broke out and kept students at home; Bland’s new role became even more critical, as she was tasked with helping create technology so students could learn virtually.
Bland collaborated with team members to develop the RPS@Home program, which provided on-demand tutoring and comprehensive lessons for students to follow. She also created content for the RPS@Home middle school math and STEMtastic Tuesdays curriculum.
For this work, Bland was named Richmond Public Schools Teacher of the Year in 2021 and Virginia Region I Teacher of the Year in 2022. “Never would I ever think I’d be honored in that way,” Bland says. “The fact that I won teacher of the year for my division and for my region was an incredible honor.”
These achievements led VCU to present Bland with the Alumni Relation’s 10 Under 10 award, which recognizes noteworthy and distinctive achievements made by alumni who earned their first VCU degree (undergraduate, graduate or professional) within the past 10 years.
Bland credits her sixth-grade math teacher as a role model and for helping her excel. “I grew up in rural Virginia, and he was the first person to expose me to the idea of finding success beyond the smaller area where I grew up,” she says. “I feel like I’m carrying the torch that he passed on.”