SHRM Emerging Professional Champions: Ashley Dugger, SHRM-CP

Andrew Deichler By Andrew Deichler March 10, 2021
SHRM Emerging Professional Champions: Ashley Dugger, SHRM-CP

As part of an effort to recognize the next generation of human resource leaders, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is naming students, alumni and others who work on behalf of emerging professionals as SHRM Emerging Professional Champions. This week, we're looking at Ashley Dugger, DBA, SHRM-CP, program chair, human resource management, for Western Governors University (WGU) in Salt Lake City.

Dugger got her start in human resources late into her academic career. As a first-generation college student, she understood that the only way to find more opportunities in her life would be through education. But while working toward her degree at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., she wasn't entirely sure what she wanted to do.

"When I was an undergrad, all of my advisors kept telling me to major in business because it would be broad enough to give me the foundational skills I needed and could open the door to a number of different things," she said. "So I got into business. I really enjoyed what I was learning, but I still didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with it."

At the time, Dugger was working full time as the assistant director of admissions at Liberty. She oversaw a team of about 65 people and performed various HR tasks, including hiring, performance management, and training and development. She found that those aspects were what she liked best about her job, and continued in the role while in grad school. After earning her MBA, she decided to take things one step further. "I said, 'If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it all the way. I'm going to pursue a doctorate program—again, just to create more opportunity,' " Dugger said. "It wasn't really for a specific role at that point."

In her doctorate program, she worked with a program chair who had previously been an HR consultant for a few large companies. The program chair ultimately advised Dugger to consider HR, as it would combine the aspects of her work history and her studies that she liked the best—solving problems and making sure people are valued.

At that point, Dugger was working as an operations analyst for an insurance company. She approached management about potentially transitioning to an HR role, but nothing was available at the time. However, fate intervened when she got a call from a friend who was on the board of a local animal shelter.

"The shelter had undergone a multiyear capital campaign to build a huge, new shelter," Dugger said. "They quadrupled the size of their staff for the new building and needed someone who could handle operations, do some HR work and loves animals."

Dugger was all three of those things and jumped at the chance to volunteer at the shelter. She encourages HR students to reach out to local nonprofits if they are looking for some hands-on experience. Many of these organizations don't have the funding or the capacity to implement in-depth HR practices and may be looking for someone with HR expertise to help out on a voluntary or part-time basis.

Her next opportunity came from Sweet Briar College in Briar, Va., which was overhauling its HR department. Dugger was hired as an HR generalist, her first full-time HR role. While technically a lateral move in terms of pay and title, it allowed her to officially begin her HR career. She remained there for about three years and eventually had the opportunity to take on a director position. But around that time, an HR program chair position opened at WGU, and she knew it was time to take the next step.

"They said, 'We need someone who is going to really appreciate what SHRM can do for our students and be supportive of that relationship, and someone who can build a strong curriculum to prepare our students for the jobs that they want,'" Dugger said. "It was another totally new path in HR for me, but I jumped in, and I have a lot of fun with it."

Dugger earned her SHRM certification in 2017 and currently advises the WGU SHRM student chapter, which has nearly 700 members. The chapter holds four executive leadership meetings per year, as well as 18 events for all chapter members. Its next event, a virtual Community Service Day, is scheduled for March 27.

In her current role, Dugger works with a lot of young and emerging professionals who are struggling to break into HR. Having once been in the same position, she has valuable insights on how they can navigate an often-complex job hunt. "I had my doctorate, and I had years of leadership, operations and HR task experience, but I was constantly told in interviews, 'You don't have an official HR title.' And so I would be passed over," she said. "I went through years of that. So, you might have to take a step back or make a lateral move. But when the opportunity comes up, you need to jump on it."

Do you know an outstanding SHRM student leader? How about a former SHRM student member who is achieving great success professionally? Or maybe a SHRM professional member, student chapter advisor or professional chapter that is advancing student membership and emerging professional programming? Nominate them as a SHRM Emerging Professional Champion today.


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