Award-winning professor's advice: Never stop trying to become a better person

Dr. Ashley Reed. Photo credit: Christina Franusich
Dr. Ashley Reed. Photo credit: Christina Franusich

Dr. Ashley Reed is an assistant professor of English and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Religion and Culture. She studies 19th century American literature, and she is passionate about the importance of listening to all voices in American literary history -- not just the loudest or most privileged ones.

She said, “I try to introduce students in my classes to a wide range of human experience through the medium of American literature. My students and I read works by Puritan poetesses, abolitionists, World War One veterans, escaped slaves, Founding Fathers, Native American storytellers, and women’s rights activists. I always hope that my students will see themselves in the texts I teach and be inspired by the many ways that American writers have fought to make their voices heard.”

Now, you might think that 19th century literature has little to do with 21st century technologies. You would be wrong.

Last spring, Dr. Reed was presented Virginia Tech’s 2018 XCaliber Award, which recognizes faculty who integrate technology in innovative, student-centered ways. In her English capstone course, students learned not only to analyze 19th century poetry, but also how to give the works new digital life by designing their own online editions.

Her nominator said, “American Literary History was not a class that I expected to enjoy, as it sounded dry and full of pointless memorization. However, from the first day of class I was struck with Dr. Reed’s enthusiasm. It takes great courage to show optimism in a subject that many people consider boring.”

Boring? Not Dr. Reed.

Last fall, just in time for a spooky Halloween, she collaborated with colleagues from across the university for “Poe’s Shadows,” an installation in the Cube at the Moss Arts Center that explored what happens when literary texts are reimagined through the use of new technology.

A prolific writer and researcher, Dr. Reed is the recipient of numerous awards and honors in her field. In addition, she is a senior fellow with the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston.

Tucked into her extensive resume is the fact that she was an award-winning producer for Turner Classic Movies, where she created on-air promotions and oversaw all aspects of the production process.

Dr. Reed said, “I think the most important lesson I’ve absorbed in my life is to never stop learning, growing, and trying to become a better person. The moment we think we know everything is the moment when our minds begin to shut down. The moment we think we can stop striving to be better is the moment we close our souls off to the needs of the world and the people around us. Importantly, though, the way to keep learning and getting better is not always to work harder, be busier, or achieve more. Often the best way to learn and grow is to be silent and listen to other people’s perspectives”