Ashley Ward

Ashley Ward is the climate integration and outreach associate for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program, based out of the Department of Geography within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. Her research focuses on identifying and increasing awareness of the health impacts from extreme climate events in the Carolinas.

Ashley Wardphoto by Megan May
November 28th, 2018

When you were a child, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

An attorney.  A serious choice for a child, I know. I suppose I liked to debate. I think I have always been passionate about certain issues.


“Weathering storms in new norms.”

Share the pivotal moment in your life that helped you choose your field of study.

I planned to go to law school when I was an undergrad. Medical geography was not on my radar at all. I was an economics and history major. But I needed a class to fulfill a gen ed requirement, and Melinda Meade’s “Cultural Ecology of Disease” course in the geography department was the only one that fit my schedule that seemed remotely interesting. I had no prior interest in health research, but I was captivated from the first day of that class. By the end of the semester, I changed my major and decided on an undergraduate thesis project. Melinda became my advisor, then my master’s advisor, and finally served as an emeritus on my PhD committee. Never underestimate those unplanned electives!

Ashley Ward (second from left) with her two daughters and husband

Ward and her family spend a lot of time at the coast. This is from a kayaking adventure in North Myrtle Beach last summer.

Tell us about a time you encountered a tricky problem. How did you handle it and what did you learn from it?

Working in communities can be a challenge — there are always surprises. Whether it is transportation, food, communication, or capacity, I’ve learned it is critical that I place myself in the context of the community in which I’m working to connect as best I can with the daily lives of my community partners. To listen. I’ve learned that it is the listening that is crucial to problem solving. Most communities not only know about the issues they face, but they often have the solutions. If I’m listening, they tell me. And then we can get to work.

What are your passions outside of research?

I am lucky that one of my biggest passions is my work. I also enjoy my large, loud, southern family, traveling with my husband and daughters, watching politics, and spending time with girlfriends trying new foodie places. It is important that I make time for the people in my life, to laugh with them, and to share experiences with them. These moments fuel my creativity and make me better at my job.

Women in Science Wednesday highlights UNC researchers at all levels of their careers across dozens of fields. From medicine to mathematics to sociology, women at Carolina excel in research, mentorship, and advocacy. Click here to nominate an exceptional scientist. Ashley Ward’s research on assessing direct and indirect mortality from climate events is now in the forefront after Hurricane Florence. Her work, alongside that of state partners, will help determine causes of death associated with extreme events and become part of planning and preparedness to reduce risks for future events.