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Left to right, Lynn, Dale and Ashley Hangstefer have been preparing for Ashley to move from their family home in Milford to Newark to begin her first year as a student at the University of Delaware.
Left to right, Lynn, Dale and Ashley Hangstefer have been preparing for Ashley to move from their family home in Milford to Newark to begin her first year as a student at the University of Delaware.

The transition to college

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Evan Krape

First-year student shares her excitement, anticipation of starting at UD

Ashley Hangstefer is going to college and the reality of that transition has set in. She’s both excited and nervous for what lies ahead.

On Saturday, Aug. 25, Ashley will start her journey at the University of Delaware, joining several thousand other first-year students moving into residence halls. A Delaware native and resident of Milford, Ashley said she chose UD because it is close to her family, it has the major she wants to pursue and her boyfriend already goes to the University.

(UD’s Office of Residence Life and Housing offers help via the Fall 2018 Move-in Guide website.)

Ashley Hangstefer, like many students who will begin their first year at the University of Delaware by moving into residence halls on Saturday, Aug. 25, has been thinking about this new chapter for a long time. Not all do, but she started packing early. She holds an autographed photo of Delaware U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who visited her high school.
Ashley Hangstefer, like many students who will begin their first year at the University of Delaware by moving into residence halls on Saturday, Aug. 25, has been thinking about this new chapter for a long time. Not all do, but she started packing early. She holds an autographed photo of Delaware U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, who visited her high school.

Ashley’s different colored eyes lit up as she shared her excitement about making new friends. Contact information for potential roommate matches were provided in June. She was assigned a roommate at random and they’ve already connected.

“I mean I love my current roommate,” Hangstefer said. “We were dead set on having each other. [She] is very nice. We get along very, very well considering we’re both environmental freaks.”

Ashley is nervous about getting along with the other students who will live on her floor in the residence hall. Being comfortable and happy in her living environment could really impact the outcome of her first year, she said.

Another big concern for her is paying for college. Ashley said she’s been saving since her first year of high school. During the summer, she worked 10-hour shifts as a lifeguard at the pool in the mobile home community of Aspen Meadows in Rehoboth. She plans to work right up until move-in day.

Her mother, Lynn Hangstefer, is a cosmetologist. A couple of years ago, her father, Dale Hangstefer, suddenly fell ill and was diagnosed with a brain fistula. This led to various health complications including kidney failure. He was employed by a phone company, but now cannot work. Ashley received financial aid from UD.

“I’ve wanted to go to college ever since I was three,” Ashley said. “If my finances and stuff like that don’t work out the way that they’re supposed to, then I don’t go to college.”

Ashley’s father has always been a big inspiration to her. Growing up, Ashley’s parents said she was a happy-go-lucky kid. Ashley fondly recalled mudding — off-road driving through mud — fishing trips with her father and trying to catch frogs in the neighborhood pond.

Ashley Hangstefer, who will join other University of Delaware first-year students moving into residence halls on Aug. 25, plans to major in marine biology. She and her father, Dale, enjoyed fixing cars and she learned about automotive collision repair at Sussex Technical High in Georgetown.
Ashley Hangstefer, who will join other University of Delaware first-year students moving into residence halls on Aug. 25, plans to major in marine biology. She and her father, Dale, enjoyed fixing cars and she learned about automotive collision repair at Sussex Technical High in Georgetown.

She went to the mid-sized high school, Sussex Technical High in Georgetown, and focused on automotive collision repair. Ashley was one of only two women in a class of about 20 who chose that focus.

Ashley’s love for cars began when her father bought old vehicles off eBay and enlisted her help to fix the engines. She chose the collision focus in school, so they could work on the bodies as well.

Ashley’s plan to major in marine biology was inspired by those fishing trips she took with her father and some of his friends.

“We actually saw a lot of cool things out there like dolphins swimming with the boat and porter whales,” she said. “I got to see a white marlin dance across the water. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, an amazing one.”

During high school, Ashley was a member of junior ROTC and served as logistics officer of the unit during her senior year. While she enjoyed the discipline and challenge of the experience, she does not want to continue the program in college. Instead, she has set her sights on some new activities, including trying out for the ice hockey club and joining a Christian club.

In mid-July, Ashley visited UD for her New Student Orientation (NSO). The night before, she shared jitters of being photographed for her student ID and signing up for classes.

That morning she was cheerfully greeted by some of UD’s orientation leaders for a daylong session on tools and resources for incoming students. The day ended with a resource fair, goodie bags and UDairy Creamery ice cream.

“I’m feeling really good,” Hangstefer said at the conclusion of her NSO day. “Confident in the fact that I’m really going to feel at home here at UD.”

This experience is a first for all three of them since her parents did not go to college. Finances aside, Ashley is also thinking a lot about classes. How hard will they be? How will she manage studying? Should she adopt new study habits?

As for Lynn and Dale, they said they are incredibly happy and proud their daughter will be a Blue Hen. But with that comes sadness and concern, Lynn Hangstefer said, feelings shared by many parents sending their first child to college.

Lynn is worried about her daughter attending the same school as her boyfriend. She wants her to make the most of the experience and not spend a lot of time worrying about someone else. Even smaller points like having a roommate is a first Lynn hopes her daughter will handle well.

“I do have faith in her to figure things out like that, but she’s never had to share anything,” she said. “I worry about that because she is an only child and she’s used to having her own space.”

Ashley Hangstefer, who will start at the University of Delaware with move-in day on Aug. 25, said she’s been saving since her first year of high school to pay for school. During the summer, she worked 10-hour shifts as a lifeguard at the pool in the mobile home community of Aspen Meadows in Rehoboth.
Ashley Hangstefer, who will start at the University of Delaware with move-in day on Aug. 25, said she’s been saving since her first year of high school to pay for school. During the summer, she worked 10-hour shifts as a lifeguard at the pool in the mobile home community of Aspen Meadows in Rehoboth.

A stack of boxes sat near the doorway of their Milford home during a visit in July. A mini fridge and residence hall linens were among them. Since the start of summer, Ashley has slowly collected items to bring to school. She purchased a new laptop, a new bike and new bearings for her longboard. She also made a trip to Salisbury, Maryland to shop for room decorations with a friend.

Imagining the day Ashley leaves for school is emotional for her parents. Reflecting on the struggles of the last few years, Lynn said she is thankful that her husband’s health issues did not deter their daughter from her dreams. But it has changed her, Lynn said. Her parents have noticed she says “Yes,” more to new opportunities.

Ashley said she has noticed that she actually feels happier. She was an atheist, but now said she believes in God after doctors predicted her father would die — and he did for a few minutes — but he’s defied the odds.

“I’m more grateful,” she said. “You know, what happened was a big reality check. So now I’m a lot more grateful that I have my father still. So I’m just taking life one day at a time and being thankful for what I have. It makes life so much better.”

Call it a new-found passion for life, but she’s ready to take that energy and desire to learn to UD. She’s ready to grow and expand the world she knows.

In mid-July, Ashley Hangstefer visited UD for her New Student Orientation.
In mid-July, Ashley Hangstefer visited UD for her New Student Orientation.

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