Breaking Barriers in Finance: The Impact of TRIO on Student Support Services Alumna Ashley Thomas

Ashley Thomas spearheaded a strategic collaboration bridging TRIO Programs with Thermo Fisher Scientific.

TRIO alumna Ashley Thomas learned the value of diversity early, and she’s now imparting that lesson in the corporate sector to recruit and train those who may never have envisioned a career in accounting or finance.  

A graduate of the University of South Carolina, she credits her understanding of the unique challenges confronting first-generation, low-income students to her participation in the Opportunity Scholars Program (OSP), a subset of TRIO Student Support Services, during college.  

Over the last two years, Thomas has been the driving force behind a project that connects TRIO programs with the financial literacy programming sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a multinational biotechnology firm. Developed first by team members in Southern California and later expanded to Boston, the curriculum has helped students at the University of San Diego, California State University San Marcos, Boston College, and the University of Massachusetts Boston. 

“My goal is to build a talent acquisition pipeline for our next generation,” said Thomas, who currently serves as a finance director at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “Being part of OSP as a minority in a small group due to my skin color put me in a position to understand what it’s like to be recognized as a minority in a larger group setting. [Now], I go out of my way to ensure I’m interviewing and hiring minority-identifying people who would otherwise qualify for a position at Thermo Fisher Scientific.” 

In a recent call with her leadership team, a vice president at Thermo Fisher asked what Thomas wanted her legacy at the company to be; she mentioned charting a path for future women in finance and accounting. During her time at the company, she was also allowed to apply this goal to her work at the start of the pandemic, a time of fermenting social and political unrest in America.   

Thermo Fisher’s CEO wanted employees to “not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk on diversity and inclusion.” In 2020, when Thermo Fisher created a diversity and inclusion (D&I) organization within the company, Thomas volunteered to be part of the finance outreach group. Eventually, through her connections with TRIO, Thomas’s team partnered with the director of USC’s TRIO program, Ms. Counts, who connected them with the Council for Opportunity in Education to create financial literacy programs that TRIO students could enroll in. Thomas’s long-term goals of the effort are “to touch as many students as possible” and, hopefully, allow “TRIO and Thermo Fisher to become interlinked,” she said. The next steps might include an internship program, “making sure TRIO students get their foot in the door.” Of the outreach, she says, “I just want to make sure it keeps growing.”  

Thomas credits her OSP program director, Althea Counts, and the academic and cultural enrichment provided the program with giving her the confidence to pursue her career aspirations. 

“Ultimately, I think [these experiences have] translated significantly into my professional career. I was fortunate enough to experience all the opportunities that were presented to me that I would have never taken as a student from a lower-income background,” she said. “I was molded significantly by TRIO….Who knows if I would be in the same position to help current students without the support of TRIO.” 

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