Like many Gators preparing to turn their tassel and start their career, Allyson Fleischer reflected on her own experience at the University of Florida as a dual degree student majoring in family, youth and community sciences (FYCS) and criminology.
Fleischer’s greatest advice is something she practiced over the past four years: Pave your own path.
“[College] is not ‘How I Met Your Mother;’ the end is not set in stone. You do not have to decide your ending at the beginning” Fleischer said. “It’s okay to change your mind, switch your major, get involved in something else and it’s okay to say yes to things outside your comfort zone.”
As a freshman, Fleischer planned to major in sociology and head to law school after graduation, but she quickly changed her major to criminology because she enjoyed those classes. It wasn’t until she took the class, Principles of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, that she began thinking about incorporating a second major, ultimately making the addition official in 2019.
“I just fell in love with the class. It was this mix of the psychology and sociology I was looking for,” Fleischer said.
But Fleischer’s courses weren’t the only experiences that helped shape her career goals. Her student involvement led her to focus on a career that intersects community, the education system and the criminal justice system.
As a sophomore, Fleischer became a volunteer in the United Way of North Central Florida’s Reading PALS program, a statewide early literacy initiative.
“I’ve always had a passion for literacy,” Fleischer said. And during 2020, Fleischer and a group of Reading PALS volunteers started the Gator4ReadingPals organization.
“Our whole goal was to help support United Way and Reading PALS,” Fleischer said. “We wanted to help build our volunteer base back up, especially because our program did transition online with the pandemic.”
As a Reading PALS volunteer, Fleischer visited Girl’s Place, Inc., an Alachua County nonprofit, to read with girls there. Girl’s Place empowers girls aged kindergarten through ninth grade to become strong, self-sufficient women. Girl’s Place then reached out to Fleischer in the fall of 2020 to see if she would be interested in volunteering with them as they supported students in online learning.
As Fleischer worked with the organization and heard about the challenges the girls face in many facets of their lives, she realized the impact she could make through education.
“I realized what kind of work needed to be done on the education side, rather than advocating for kids in the courtroom,” Fleischer said. “I flipped from this pre-law idea over into this education space.”
Her experiences with Reading PALS and Girl’s Place, combined with a research methods course, sparked a topic idea for Fleischer to pursue an undergraduate thesis. She worked with Kate Fogarty, FYCS associate professor, to better understand the moderating effect of school connectedness on the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and overt delinquency in high school students.
“I chose that topic because I was spending most of my days at Girl’s Place and I could see that space or the school space were these kids’ primary environments, and they were spending more time with us than they were at home,” Fleischer said. “I was curious how much of an impact we are actually making, and it was kind of that mix between my two disciplines.”
As Fleischer reflects on her experiences at the University of Florida, she is proud that she took advantage of new opportunities, which allowed her to learn more about herself and grow into a career field she is passionate about. Fleischer was awarded the E.T. York, Jr. Medal of Excellence as a junior and was a Top 10 College of Agricultural and Life Sciences senior.
“Upon graduating, I aim to use my knowledge to work toward giving all students the best chance at succeeding, despite the challenges they may face,” Fleischer said.