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South Carolina Honors College

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Making a difference in a pandemic

‘I hope my work has an impact,’ says Ashley McDowell ‘06 

Making a difference in the lives of others has been a theme in Ashley McDowell’s life. As an assistant attorney general for the state of Washington, she was able to do that in some of the most meaningful ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

McDowell arrived in Washington at the end of January 2020. Two months later, in her new role with the civil rights division, her unit was tasked with defending the eviction moratorium issued by the governor – on top of their current caseload. 

Though that is no small task, McDowell said, “I felt really thankful that I got to contribute to the response in my own way and got to help people stay in their homes and not get evicted.” 

Keeping the people of Washington housed during a pandemic – that is quite an impact. 

Prior to becoming an assistant attorney general for the state of Washington, McDowell served as a senior staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society in Washington, D.C. Here, she spent the first decade of her career in family and domestic violence law. 

McDowell credits the mentality that she has in her professional career and carried throughout law school at Yale, to her time in the Honors College where she was encouraged to try different things, be bold, be curious and “just go for it." 

During McDowell’s time in the Honors College, she participated in the South Carolina Semester Program and the Washington Semester Program.

“Those experiences solidified for me that I wanted to pursue public interest work,” McDowell says. “They have had a really big impact on my career choices so far.” 

After graduating from the South Carolina Honors College, McDowell attended Yale Law School. 

For students wanting to follow in McDowell’s legal footsteps, she encourages students to be okay with stepping off the path and be open-minded. Rather than focusing on a narrow path, she says to “think about the kind of skills that you want to build and look at the opportunities that can allow you to build those skills.” McDowell also emphasizes the importance of networking and reaching out to people. She offers the simple piece of advice, “just send the email.”  

In addition to being an assistant attorney general for the state of Washington, McDowell also has another title – mom. She has two small children, a three-year-old and a five-year-old who have lived most of their lives in a pandemic. She plans to take this time post-pandemic, to help them experience some of the things they have missed, get them reacclimated to the world and bring her kids to South Carolina.  

McDowell smiles as she talks about visiting with her children. “I can’t wait to get home to South Carolina, walk around the Horseshoe and go get some barbeque. I have a lot of really wonderful memories from the Honors College and I can’t wait to get back to campus.” 

In terms of what McDowell hopes her work means for the future, she says, “I hope my work has a positive impact on people’s lives… whether it’s working with them one-on-one or enforcing laws statewide.”  


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