Undergraduate Academic Affairs

February 11, 2015

A legacy of language

Audrey Lawrence

Mercer Island native Ashley Bobman always loved science, math and helping people, but her grandmother’s fight against pancreatic cancer was a turning point that focused her toward a career in medicine.

Bobman is pursuing a major in public health with a minor in nutrition, and excels in her challenging coursework in the Interdisciplinary Honors program. She has also done work at the Sephardic Studies Program on campus, inspired by a childhood spent “immersed in the Jewish culture of my family.” Her unique blend of talents and interests led to her selection as the 2013-14 sophomore president’s medalist.

Portrait of Ashley Bobman

Ashley Bobman hopes to serve as a surgical nurse practitioner one day.Tim Han

Growing up, Bobman’s parents emphasized the importance of serving others. She joined her siblings when she was still in elementary school to volunteer at a local nursing home, and still visits today as a hospice care volunteer. “Some of the most fulfilling moments of my week are my visits at the Kline Galland home, listening to the residents’ stories and brightening their days through conversation, music and books.”

She also volunteers periodically at Harborview and Swedish Hospital’s pediatric unit. Beyond the gratification she gets from helping others, supporting patients in different settings has helped her “understand the populations I want to work with.”

Curiosity about her mother’s Sephardic Jewish heritage led Bobman to the Sephardic Studies Program at the Jackson School of International Studies, where Assistant History Professor Devin Naar is leading the effort to digitize and preserve Ladino texts, the dying language of the Sephardic people. Though she knew that her great grandfather was active in that community, it came as quite the surprise to learn that Naar not only knew his name, but also had many volumes of his written work.

About President’s Medalists 

Medalists are undergraduate students of the highest caliber whose academic pursuits demonstrate interdisciplinary interests and whose co-curricular and extracurricular activities show breadth and depth of expertise. The sophomore medal is awarded to the junior with the highest scholastic standing for the second year of his or her coursework.


Inspired, Bobman began learning Ladino and translating documents. Now, she even writes her own original Ladino poems and reflections. Writing “offers historical context to my personal reflection, has opened doors to understanding my own culture, and has given me a new look into my family history,” she reflects.

While preserving a dying language may seem unrelated to a career in medicine, Bobman sees a strong connection. “This experience has taught me more about who I am and where I came from,” she says, “and it gives me a better sense of what shapes other people.” This sensitivity to diversity along with her focus on “improving the health of individuals in underserved populations” will no doubt serve this future nurse practitioner and her patients well.