When the coronavirus pandemic upturned the world, Ash Lee Hicks was working as a nurse at her children’s elementary school in Fayetteville, Arkansas. When schools closed and the family became immersed in remote learning, she decided it was time to do something she’d wanted to do for a long time: earn a master’s degree.
American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences
“My four kids were going to school virtually and I thought, ‘Well, I can set an example for them and do the same thing,’” says Ash Lee, an 11-year nurse at that point with experience in critical care, hospice and school nursing. Ash Lee had become familiar with American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Sciences when researching RN to BSN programs in 2017. She ultimately attended Arkansas Tech University instead, graduating in 2019. But the advisor that Ash Lee had talked with at American Sentinel continued to encourage, knowing that an MSN was in her plans.
“I grew up in generational poverty and I’ve always valued education. It pulled me from the depths of a tumultuous situation and equipped me to create stability and endless opportunity for myself and family,” she says. Throughout 2020, Ash Lee kept imagining helping other nurses using education as a platform, and knew the next step was enrolling in an MSN Nursing Education program. But it was her husband’s support and conspiring that made it happen. “He contacted Jennifer, my American Sentinel advisor and now colleague in community service. For Christmas, he enrolled me in, and paid for my first course. He and the kids wrapped the acceptance letter and a family letter of support and placed it under the tree. Honestly, it was the best gift I have ever received. He had so much faith in me and knew I needed that push.”
A Commitment to Help Others
Ash Lee’s first American Sentinel course required she address a healthcare-related problem in her community. “As a school nurse, I see multitudes of families in Northwest Arkansas that experience food insecurity,” she says. “I started planting seedlings on our land and created a business, Good2Grow Farm, and instituted a buy-one-donate-one model. We donated Gardens-in-a-Box to families in need, we helped them learn to grow their own food, and donated produce to local food pantries.”
Good2Grow Farm was just the spark for Ash Lee, who also began volunteering with Nurses Crushing COVID to administer vaccines and joined Fayetteville’s Community Development and Assistance Program advisory board. She was quickly nominated as chair of the board, a role in which she promotes community development initiatives and assistance programs such as helping vaccinate the homeless.
Receiving a Scholarship
When Ash Lee noticed a new scholarship posted on the American Sentinel website, she was quick to apply. In 2021, she was the first recipient of the Social Justice and Advocacy Scholarship for Healthcare Professionals, a full-tuition scholarship. “Receiving this scholarship was life changing for me,” she says. “I created a business in that first class, and it snowballed from there. Because of that experience combined with my volunteer vaccinator work, I was accepted to serve on the city’s board and later selected by the Arkansas Nurses Association to serve on their Political Action Committee as one of four Nurse Advocacy Leaders in the state. The support and financial help have been tremendous.”
Onward and Upward: Running for Justice of the Peace
The MSN Education program prepared Ash Lee for another new career opportunity as well. In August 2021, she joined NorthWest Arkansas Community College as a clinical nursing instructor. She intends to pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice in the future and teach at the university level full time.
In addition, Ash Lee forges ahead on her path to make a difference and is running for Justice of the Peace in Washington County in 2022—she’ll have finished her MSN by election time. She credits Florence Nightingale for inspiring her decisions and path. “I’ve been called to serve bigger,” she says. “I want to help as many people as I can.”