Staff Spotlight: Meet Ashley Kockler

Just like each student, no two hall directors are the same. And each has their own path. Meet Ashley Kockler – a wannabe FBI agent turned Residence Hall Director.

A former supervisor said that Ashley “hears things that other don’t,” which she uses to her advantage. “I always ask, who do you want to be, what do you want to become and how can I help you get there.”

Her Road to ISU

Kockler’s road to ISU is filled with many interesting turns. A native of Nevada, IA, she attended University of Northern Iowa studying political science and American History dreaming to become an FBI agent. “I loved what I was studying but couldn’t see a clear career path, mainly because of my disability,” she said. Kockler is deaf in her right ear and has partial hearing loss in the left.

At UNI Kockler became a Resident Adviser her junior year and loved it so much, she knew what her new career path would be. After graduating from UNI she earned her Master of Science in Education degree, specializing in higher education administration. She has been in the education field ever since. Her experience includes working as a K-6 Special Education teacher working with kids that had attention deficit disorder; hall director at Georgetown University for 5 years and served as the interim Associate Director of Student Conduct at Georgetown focusing on students that lived off campus.

Life was able to come full circle for a bit for Kockler. She was able to combine her education background with her undergrad work to land a job as a Department Head for a Government institution to help agents transition into the intelligence field. The position let her get a taste of her dream job. “I got to meet and work with a lot of cool people – former CIA spies, the former station chief that was behind the Iron Curtain,” she said. In fact, she lived one block away from former United States Secretary of State John Kerry. “I do miss the security of knowing the secret service is just down the street,” she said.

The east coast life was great, but Kockler needed to get back to something comfortable, and the hall director position at Iowa State was a perfect fit. She is now in her third year in Maple Hall. “I love interacting with the students,” she said. “There’s nothing quite like seeing the light bulb moment when they recognize they are independent and can make their own decisions. Seeing the growth and maturity over nine months is phenomenal.”

Each incoming class is a new puzzle for her to figure out. Her key is to put together a staff that is flexible enough to meet all the needs each class is going to have. “For some, Maple Hall has more people than their hometowns,” she said. “So how do we help them adjust? Encourage them that even though its overwhelming and it seems like you can’t do it – you can!”

Leading in a pandemic

Being a Hall Director during a pandemic is nerve racking. She can’t wait to go back to being a resource and concentrating on planning fun community-building events. Unfortunately, this past semester that’s not how she and her staff were seen. “That’s the frustrating thing – I have 8 to 24 incredible student leaders and because of the pandemic the residents have not been able to see the best in them.”

The big challenge – getting the students to connect virtually. “The students are burned out on virtual – and I recognize that,” she said. “They spend all day on their computer in zoom and WebEx meetings for class so how do I make that virtual event a little more appealing so they spend another hour on their computer.”

Her community advisers have run a number of successful programs: from Kahoot trivia games to football watch parties and grocery bingo. “Grocery Bingo is a fun way to connect – Your universe gets bigger with every new person you meet – sometimes it’s that simple,” she said. “Now that they’ve had a semester with their roommate, we’ll try a version of the Newlywed game online.”

Hearing Impairment – I have to listen in a different manner.

At the age of 6, during a hearing test in school, it was discovered that Kockler had a hearing impairment. “Turns out I was deaf in my right ear and had lost 60% of my hearing in my left,” she said. Due to hard work, she didn’t use a hearing aid until she was 22 – and was an honor roll student the entire time. “I insisted on making it work.”

She also reads people’s lips. But, due to the pandemic, mask use required among students and staff has made that a challenge. “I make it work, but it’s been a really long 10 ½ months.”

Kockler has turned the hearing impairment into a tool and has used it to great success in her hall director role. She knows all her resident’s voices and nuances so she can read body language and facial expressions. “I know when they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing, even though their words are saying something different.”

She is also able to hear things that others may not. She pays closer attention and can read between the lines better. “If you are having a bad day, but you’re telling me words you think I need to hear to get me away – I can see right through that,” she says. “Even though I may miss words, I can still figure out what people need.”

Recently, she sat down with a student who Kockler knew was struggling, but not admitting to it. “I could just tell something was off,” she said. “I told the student that this is what I see when I look at you – and that doesn’t match the words coming out of your mouth.” After that, the student confided in Ashley that she was struggling with her mental health. Ashley was able to get her to the health center to get the assistance she needed. “I must be more adaptable to the universe around me without relying solely on what I can hear.”

Maple Hall – An apartment without being an apartment

Although she may be a little biased, she believes Maple Hall is the best place for a student to live. She dubs it “an apartment without being an apartment.”

She points to the various amenities that Maple offers to back up her claim, including a sink and vanity in every room and the individual toilet and shower rooms on every floor. “There’s privacy there – the same as you would have in an apartment – it’s just across the hall. You can go use the bathroom whenever you want without four other people around.

Other amenities include a newly remodeled kitchenette on every floor; new carpet, flooring, lighting and vanities in every room – and the bus stops right in front of the building. “Outside may looked dated, but you walk in and it is a brand spanking new building,” she said.

She encourages all the freshmen to seriously consider returning to Maple Hall. “I can recreate the freshman year you should have had. I can finally give you that.”