Oct. 28, 2022
Reading time: 4 minutes, 4 seconds

Ashley Dingler ’21 was a born storyteller. As a child, she would grab her microphone – also known as a hairbrush – and ask her grandmother to film her on location “covering a story,” whether they were traveling on vacation or painting a room.

Ashley Dingler ’21
Ashley Dingler ’21

As she got older and her passion for writing and public speaking grew, majoring in mass communications with a journalism concentration at the University of West Georgia was a natural fit. But Dingler was having a hard time finding money to fund her education.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to graduate because of financial reasons,” she confessed. “I saved up money from my job, but I fell a little short. I already planned to move back home and attend another college.”

Then she received an email about the Dora Byron Memorial Scholarship, which she applied for and received. With nothing blocking her education, Dingler was able to fully immerse herself in UWG’s School of Communication, Film and Media (SCFM) that included its well-known experiential learning labs – more specifically, the student-run television station, WUTV, and newspaper, The West Georgian.

“Through these opportunities, I was able to apply what I learned in the classroom to real-life scenarios, which taught me the importance of applying knowledge, adapting to different styles of communication, and figuring out my own style as a writer and speaker,” said Dingler. “Thanks to the scholarship, I became a first-generation college graduate, debt-free.”

The scholarship that ended up being Dingler’s saving grace recently celebrated 20 years in changing the lives of women in journalism. Established by a group of donors simply known as the Friends of Dora Byron, the Dora Byron Memorial Scholarship is named for another person with a gift for storytelling. 

Beginning as a public affairs officer for the military during World War II, Byron dedicated more than 50 years of her life as an instructor of print journalism, first at Florida State University and followed by then-West Georgia College. While at UWG, she served as assistant professor of journalism, acting as advisor to the student newspaper and mentor to a number of aspiring writers. She also headed the “Evening at Emory” adult education program at Emory University in Atlanta for many years.

A journalist herself, Byron was a “stringer” for the New York Times, and she wrote for such publications as Atlanta Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor. Well-read and an astute political observer, Byron engaged eagerly in conversations with her students and contemporaries on a wide range of topics and issues. She encouraged young women to explore careers in journalism, even at times investing her personal funds in their education. 

“Throughout her teaching career at UWG, Dora Byron inspired a number of women to pursue careers in journalism and communications,” said Deborah Bolding, a member of the donor group. “This included writing personal scholarship checks to cover tuition fees. I was one of those women, and I will always be grateful for the impact she had on my life. When she passed away in 2000, we worked with the university to create the Dora Byron Memorial Scholarship as a way to honor her writing talent and love of teaching and to continue her legacy of generosity for future generations of women.”

On its 20th anniversary, the scholarship’s benefactors updated the criteria to reflect the evolution of journalism and communications. 

Dr. Brad Yates, SCFM dean, said recipients of the Dora Byron scholarship have had fewer financial worries because of the amount and the fact that it was renewable for up to four years. This scholarship allowed them to give greater attention and focus to their classes, co-curricular and extracurricular activities to help prepare them for their future careers.  

Dora Byron and students. Photo by Christopher Drummond.
Dora Byron and students. Photo by Christopher Drummond.

“My hope is that students found their educational experience richer and more meaningful because of this scholarship,” Yates said. “According to her benefactors, Dora Byron invested wholly and deeply in students, even after they graduated. Based on the stories I have heard, she was the epitome of a teacher and mentor. She went out of her way to help students be better journalists and even better humans. Her legacy lives on through this scholarship, and I am confident our student recipients’ success while in school and beyond would make her extremely proud.”

Dingler recalls her studies in mass communications daily. Currently a communications specialist at Southwire, she writes internal and external communications and assists with video shoots and interviews. 

“The knowledge and skills that I learned in the classroom, WUTV and The West Georgian equipped me for success, and I am grateful for the experiences I had during my time at UWG,” she concluded. “College brings forth many challenges, but when I had moments of self-doubt, Dora Byron’s scholarship motivated me to keep pushing forward. I hope I made her proud.”

For more information about how you can support UWG students through an endowment, scholarship or annual giving, please visit the UWG Give West webpage.