WIScholar graduate takes on coaching roles with college and NFL teams

A. Cornwell on the sidelines of a UW football game
Photo courtesy of Ashley Cornwell

Most football super fans build their weekends around football. Wisconsin International Scholars (WISc) Program alumn, Ashley Cornwell, built her life around it. From playing as a kid to joining an NCAA coaching staff, there is little room to debate that football is in fact life for Cornwell.

A Wisconsin native, Cornwell fell in love with American football as a child, playing alongside her twin brother. Her passion for playing carried through her sophomore year of high school and eventually led her to coaching her junior year—not at her own school, but instead at the closest high school that would allow Cornwell to hold the position.

A Cornwell headshot
Photo courtesy of Ashley Cornwell

Her football journey didn’t end after high school, though. While pursuing a rigorous double major, ultimately earning degrees in political science and international studies, as well as a certificate in environmental studies (chosen for her interest and passion in global politics and initiatives), she also worked for the UW Football program as a recruiting student her first year and a student assistant coach during the rest of her time on campus.

Cornwell’s morning-to-night schedule, an unusual mixture of academic majors paired with college football experience, eventually earned her a recommendation for the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, an NFL initiative designed to increase the number of minority coaches and executives in professional football.

The fellowship subsequently opened the door for Cornwell to work with the NFL International Player Pathway Program (IPP) after graduation. The program, which helps identify and develop players in Europe, Africa and Australia, gave her the opportunity to interact with players, coaches and team executives from across the globe.

“Getting to meet new people, with new perspectives, was pretty huge to me,” said Cornwell.

Cornwell posing with NFL IPP players
Cornwell posing with NFL IPP players. Photo courtesy of Ashley Cornwell

Cornwell’s educational background, along with her strong interpersonal skills, made her very successful in her coaching position with IPP and beyond. Not only did she have a broader knowledge of cultural backgrounds thanks to her international studies work, but also for a wider athletic audience. She hopes to use her education and her football platform to lift up young girls and women on the global athletic stage as well.

“I have always had an interest in the interconnectedness of countries,” said Cornwell. “I hope to put my experience to use in some way, in and out of coaching football, such as bridging the gap between international players and playing opportunities, and general non-profit projects for women pursuing sports.”

Cornwell coaching at Oberlin College
Cornwell coaching at Oberlin College. Photo courtesy of Ashley Cornwell

Cornwell is now working as the offensive line coach at Oberlin College. She credits her experience as a Badger and a WIScholar—a program she found when looking for scholarships and trying to find ways to study abroad—for where she is now and where she plans to go in the future.

“The [WISc] Program itself built in a lot of empathy in me. It continually opened my mind to new things, people, and ideas,” said Cornwell.

Looking ahead to the future, it’s clear that Cornwell will continue to live out her childhood dream of coaching. With enthusiasm for her opportunities stateside and around the world, she hopes to continue utilizing her unique skills to introduce football to new players and others who share her love of the sport.


Story by Jaya Larsen