At the age of 19, Ashley Nessler took a job as a teller at a local Bank of America branch in Tarpon Springs, Fla. Fifteen years later, she finds herself in a small business credit performance position with the bank, thanks in part to how Saint Leo University prepared her for success and the tremendous work ethic she has exhibited since an early age.

A Unique Background

Nessler says she is a 10th-generation Floridian, making her family a rarity in the melting pot of the Sunshine State.

"Our family basically built New Port Richey," she explains of the city in Pasco County to the north of Tampa.

The 34-year-old native of Dunedin, Fla. now lives in Tampa. She has one brother named Jeremy, an Army E6 staff sergeant. Her nine-year-old Yorkie, Pepper, keeps her company.

She grew up in New Port Richey and attended Gulf High School. She started at Pasco-Hernando State College before transferring to Saint Leo.

"Both of my parents graduated from Saint Leo," she says. "My mom, Lisa, got a bachelor's in business administration, and my dad, Reed, was a psychology major. My aunt, who is a pretty successful lawyer, actually gave me the advice to pursue business."

While working as a part-time teller at Bank of America, she loved the fact that she could pursue a bachelor's in business administration with a marketing concentration by taking evening and weekend courses, in addition to some online.

"I loved the convenience of being able to earn my degree around my schedule," she says.

After finishing her undergraduate studies in 2008, she would go on to earn an MBA from Saint Leo as well, giving her more opportunity to move up the ladder in her field.

"I remember taking an international business class when I was working on my MBA," she recalls. "Our class actually took a trip to Costa Rica to study that country's business and culture. I remember connecting really well with that professor, and I became good friends with one of the girls I roomed with, Kate West, who also got her MBA there."

Her courses included a mix of students from a variety of backgrounds and trades.

"I got a unique perspective on the business world since I took classes with some older students, even having some business owners in my classes. I got some real-life and real-world insight from those students."

She remains a proud Lion and alumna.

"I still brag about Saint Leo to others as far as what that university has done for me," she says. "I would love to go back to Saint Leo at some point and teach a business class to give back to such a special institution."

Of Saint Leo's six core values, the concept of community made a big impression on Nessler.

"It really taught me about getting involved in the community around me and meeting others," she says. "I have been on the board of directors at the Helen Gorden Davis Centre for Women in Tampa where we help personally and professionally develop girls and women of all ages. We help female entrepreneurs with their businesses and also do health and wellness programs, domestic violence awareness and many other meaningful activities."

Building a Career with Bank of America

Nessler joined Bank of America as a sophomore in college. She then spent nine years in the company's financial center, serving as the manager of the department's associates until 2012. She transitioned into the small business department, working closely with entrepreneurs across a wide variety of industries

"I used to help these business owners with their working capital. Now, I'm helping them drive their credit performance."

In her words, her favorite part of working for the banking giant is being active with its internal employee network, which is known as Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development (LEAD) for Women.

"I currently serve as a regional leader of this network," she says. "I get to mentor some of our team members, and building these relationships has been wonderful. I'm also involved with the National Association of Women Business Owners, which has been a very rewarding experience."

Her ultimate goal is to become a line of business executive.

Wise Words

Nessler has some words of inspiration based on her educational and professional endeavors.

"Always have an open mind and a willingness to learn and adapt. Be yourself and bring some of your own perspective to the table. Always keep your eye on the prize."

Photo credit: The photograph included in this blog article was provided by Ashley Nessler and is used with permission.