Junior Mental Health Advocate Takes Charge in a Time of Uncertainty



Ashley Spry is a long-time advocate for mental wellness. The mother of two started her career just after graduating from high school, but is using two BSU Alumni and Foundation scholarship awards to follow her dreams.

For the 2021-2022 academic year, Spry received the $1,300 David and Diane Parnow Scholarship and the $400 Jack and Marie St. Martin American Indian Scholarship to help her pursue degrees in psychology and sociology.

“Words cannot even begin to express how thankful I am and how thankful my little family is. Times are tough and school has been so busy—exhausting but so rewarding,” she said in a thank you letter to her scholarship donors. “It was a very hard decision to return full-time to school while being a full-time mom as well. You have made a huge impact and helped me not only with school but also to pursue my dream.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Spry saw the opportunity to earn her degree online after working in the mental health sector in Grand Rapids since 2008. The choice was easy. She enrolled for online classes at Bemidji State, the alma mater of her late grandfather Victor Williams Sr. ’69.

“My family told me about how much he loved it when he was a student. I think that made the choice of where I would go to school clear,” she said. “I was spending a lot of time at home and as I had always wanted to go back to school. This was my opportunity.”

Spry works full-time as a domestic violence prevention advocate in Grand Rapids, but the support system she’s found at Bemidji State, paired with the flexibility of her online curricula, has made earning her degree more achievable, she said.

“I know that because of this support system that I have, I can do this despite any challenges that might come my way,” she said. “I hope my success can be a symbol of encouragement for my children as they grow. I want to show them that if you want something, you must go out and get it. It’s never too late to pursue your passion.”

Spry is also a member of Bemidji State’s inaugural Indigenous Students in Psychology cohort, a scholarship program tailored to psychology students with Indigenous backgrounds, and is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success Program, which trains students to be successful in leadership positions.