Small town native Ashley Willis has high career expectations and goals blazoned in front of her.
Willis, born and raised in Whitmire, graduated May 3 as the top, outstanding senior at the University of South Carolina, Aiken with her bachelor of science degree in exercise science and sports science. Her concentration was in basic sciences.
Willis was also the valedictorian of her high school graduating class at Whitmire in 2008 and enjoyed the family like atmosphere. In fact, the small atmosphere that she loves helped influence her decision in attending USCA.
The bigger influence was the interaction with a couple of physical therapists from Newberry Physical Therapy.
After a softball injury in high school, Willis went to the Newberry clinic to help recover.
She enjoyed working with them and they told her that they went to USCA. She did her research and toured the school in 2007 and says she just loved it.
In regards to physical therapy, Willis says, “It amazes me how the body can adapt and bounce back. Motivating people to come through is a very rewarding field.”
She went on to play intramural softball and tennis in school and she just knew that she wanted to get into physical therapy. She understood that she want to really have to study and she did just that.
Willis ended up graduating with a 3.99 grade point average and was a member of Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society. She also delivered a speech at graduation and was excited about it and wanted to leave a positive impression with her fellow graduates.
Her only caveat was having a B plus in her entire college career, she says smiling.
In fact, smiling just seems to come natural to this young lady especially when asked about the diamond sparkler on her left hand.
Willis just got engaged to her high school sweetheart, Lee Willard, also a Whitmire native.
Willard, a 2007 graduate of WHS, and Willis plan to marry after they both finish graduate school. Willard will be attending Charleston School of Law while Willis is excited to pursue her doctorate in physical therapy from the Medical University of South Carolina. Her program is a three year program and she starts May 25.
Willis is excited to explore the Charleston area, meet new people and inch closer towards her physical therapy career.
Her ultimate goal is to have her own practice but she understands the process of waiting and working to get there.
This is just something that she is passionate about and longs to pursue.
In high school and college, she just loved the sciences and especially her exercise science courses at USCA. Now she’s looking forward to really getting into her field as she goes through graduate school.
She recalls one of her professors, Dr. Chris DeWitt, department chair of exercise and sports science, as someone who always worked to help out her and her classmates.
She says that he saw the weaknesses of students and helped them overcome them.
She also recalls helping out at the Newberry Physical Therapy and Newberry’s hospital over the summer and says that helping out there put a lot in perspective for her. It made her more comfortable with what she was doing and she was able to see the whole process from inpatient and outpatient therapy.
She’s also thankful for the guidance from her parents and two sisters. In fact, her mother is a nurse.
“She loves her job,” says Willis about her mother, “I hope for that for me too.”
After graduating from MUSC, Willis is not sure where she may settle. While she says she loves her home town and the fact that all her family’s here, she also loves meeting new people and is eager to get started in her field.