While other Virginia Tech graduating seniors prepare for commencement, Ashley Vollrath, a multimedia journalism major, is boarding a plane. Her destination is Shreveport, Louisiana, where she will participate in one of the most competitive interviews of her life. As the reigning Miss Virginia USA, she will compete for the title Miss USA.
On May 21, she challenges 50 other contestants not just for a crown, but also for the opportunity to spend a year promoting a personal cause at a national level. As Miss Virginia USA, she created an initiative through the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Virginia, called Spread Your Wings and FLY (Forever Love Yourself). With the Miss USA title, she would spend a year advancing her platform.
“As a Hokie, I mentored students at the Boys and Girls Club and created bonds with the children,” she said. The organization’s primary emphasis is on serving disadvantaged youth; her goal is to motivate this population.
“No matter what they might go through,” she said, “whether they’re in foster care or an abusive home, they will get through whatever they are facing. With a little hard work and the right guidance, they can do anything they set their mind to.”
Incorporating Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), into her duties as Miss Virginia USA, she organized Hokie Hearts Lending Helping Hands. This fundraising campaign treated 40 members of the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Virginia each to a $75 holiday toy shopping spree at Target. She credits current students and alumni for making this possible.
Such forms of generosity can create a sense of community, which is why the Poquoson, Virginia, native chose to attend Virginia Tech. She wanted to be part of something bigger than herself.
And her interest in being a good communicator, along with feeling comfortable on camera, led her to pursue a multimedia journalism degree through the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
She learned more about the field firsthand by interning at WSLS Channel 10 in Roanoke, where, as a reporter, she covered a spectrum of joyful moments and tragic ones.
But it was her time with Virginia Tech Television that solidified her passion for sports broadcasting. The decisive moment happened during a Hokie football game.
“I remember being there with the station director, who immersed me into the sports culture,” she said. “I was sitting on the sidelines while everyone was jumping to ‘Enter Sandman.’ It occurred to me that with sports, there are always people celebrating, and I want to be part of it.”
At this first football game, Vollrath found that sports reporting is similar to cheerleading. She has a longstanding interest in cheering and is a cheerleading ambassador for the Washington Redskins. In this role, her focus is on the fan experience.
And through her misadventures in cheering, mainly from injuries, she found herself thrust into the world of competitive pageants. While in high school, after a torn ACL sidelined her cheerleading, one of her friends, a former Miss Teen Virginia USA, suggested she compete in the state pageant for teens. Vollrath tried it and placed in the top five.
When the same friend received a job overseas and could not compete in the Miss Virginia USA competition, she gave her spot to Vollrath, who made it into the final 10.
Two years later, in 2017, Vollrath competed again for the Miss Virginia USA crown and won it.
“Pageants give you the opportunity to show what you stand for as a person and what you want to represent for your state and for yourself,” she said. “You share your story. You let people know you are an example of true beauty because of what you have gone through and overcome.”
Vollrath overcame her own obstacles by focusing on her goals, such as graduating from Virginia Tech and competing for her dream job of Miss USA.
“Ashley always finds a way to accomplish what she’s after,” said Jared Wooley, an instructor in the Department of Communication. “Whether it’s her extracurricular accomplishments or her ideas and plans for completing an assignment, she’s always determined to achieve her goals.”
While studying at the university, she joined several organizations, including the Kappa Delta Sorority and Virginia Tech Television, to prepare herself for life after college and the competition. These rounded out her interests, gave her life experience, and provided her with contacts.
“I can’t leave Virginia Tech feeling disappointed in myself,” she said, “because I have done absolutely everything I could to get involved and to make lifelong friends. I know this is a place I will continue to come back to. I will always be a Hokie.”
Written by Leslie King