Converse Grad Sails into 'Intensely Competitive' Fellowship

Ashley Blount, John Jay Institute Fellow
Ashley Blount, John Jay Institute Fellow
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For a 21-year-old student from a tiny Alabama town, Ashley Blount has already logged more miles than most folks do in a lifetime; she has sailed around the world. And now she's about to weigh anchor at one of the most highly competitive Fellowships in the country.

We had a pretty overwhelming sense from her application of her remarkable character and humility."

The freshly minted Converse graduate has been named one of only 16 Fellows at the prestigious John Jay Institute, a six-year-old Philadelphia-based program whose mission is to "prepare principled leaders for faith-informed public service." The decidedly Christian educational institute is named for John Jay, one of the nation's Founding Fathers and the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Blount joins the Class of 2014 this fall for an intense, yearlong course of study.

"I wanted to take a year after graduation to figure out what I wanted to get into. When I came across the John Jay Institute, I found the program and its more than 100 Fellows, who have been commissioned to be principled leaders, to be all the things I was looking for as far as ultimately getting into public service," the politics major said. "It was really spot-on."

And Blount was spot-on for the Institute, too. In selecting only 10 percent of applicants to the demanding institute, "We had a pretty overwhelming sense from her application of her remarkable character and humility," said Thomas Bell, the Institute's recruitment coordinator. "It was very clear to us that Ashley's going to be a great fit. We're very impressed with her."

Impressive, indeed. Early in her Converse career Blount landed a job as congressional intern for the House Committee on Veteran's Affairs. She spent the fall of 2011 with some 700 other undergrads aboard the University of Virginia's Semester at Sea program. The floating campus, now in its 50th year, circumnavigates the globe, visiting such exotic ports-of-call as Casablanca, Mauritius and Vietnam. Last summer, she was among 20 students selected nationwide to participate in the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute at Duke University, an intensive five-week political science program including graduate coursework in statistical methods and race and American politics. And she graduates from Converse this week as a Nisbet Honors Program Scholar.

"I want to be an instrument in facilitating hope."

Dr. Laura Brown, co-director of the Nisbet Honors Program, mentored Blount along her journey. "In the spring of her sophomore year, Ashley and another honors student (both committed Christians) approached me about their plans to raise funds for a mission group seeking to combat child sex trafficking in Southeast Asia. I was impressed that the two took seriously a problem half-way around the globe, and my family and I joined them for part of the walk-a-thon," Brown said. "I was not surprised when just a term later, Ashley received not only the Desmond Tutu Scholarship but also the Ubuntu Award during Semester-at-Sea because of her involvement in the community aboard ship. Ashley has continued to lead on campus as the president of our International Students Organization (the first time in my memory that this role has been filled by a U.S. citizen), and as a student leader in Spartanburg's Baptist Collegiate Ministries."

While Blount could trumpet her life-changing experiences, she clearly displays what the John Jay Institute saw in her: humility. That's why she said she hopes to parlay what she learns as a Fellow into a life of public service "away from the limelight."

"I want to be an instrument in facilitating hope," she said. "I like to think I have this remarkable faith in Christ."

"Remarkable" may perhaps be in the water where she grew up, as the daughter of a Postal Service worker and his wife in Robertsdale, Ala. -- the same hometown as Apple's CEO Tim Cook.

Said Converse College president Betsy Fleming, "Ashley's selection to this intensely competitive Institute fits hand-in-glove with our own tradition: We don't make leaders as much as we empower women who already show leadership traits that brought them to our campus in the first place."


The John Jay Institute believes that leaders are made, not born. Consequently, its Fellows Program is designed to inspire men and women with a vision for human flourishing in the good society and to equip them with the spiritual, intellectual, and professional disciplines necessary for effective faith-informed public service. The Fellows Program begins with an intensive semester-long academic residency in the cradle of American liberty – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A semester-long "externship" follows the residency with placement in a national or international governmental agency or non-governmental organization.

Upon successful completion of the academic residency and externship, the Fellows Program offers a life-long membership in a professional fraternity that includes graduate school and job placement assistance, mentoring, networking, career-coaching, and continuing education opportunities.