This past school year, Miami University senior Ashley VanBuskirk wasn’t just paying her own college tuition — she was raising funds to send another woman to school too.
VanBuskirk, who studied abroad in Kosovo with Miami University’s journalism program last summer, spent her last week abroad with a young woman named Ema, whose family was on welfare after whose father passed away serving in the 1999 Kosovo War. Amidst her family’s financial struggle, Ema, who aspired to be a lawyer, was unable to afford a collegiate education.
“The whole reason (Ema) wanted to go to school was so she could help provide for her family, and she wanted to become a lawyer to help women who are facing the same difficulties that she and her family have faced,” VanBuskirk said.
Upon returning to the United States, VanBuskirk made it her mission to support Ema’s schooling, just as she had been supported with five different scholarships for her Kosovo trip. With the help of her twin sister, Victoria, VanBuskirk co-founded her own stationery company, called Flora, to help support the higher education goals of young women.
“When I got back to school last year, my sister and I had the hardest time finding a notebook or planner that I could write in or keep track of my day. I really felt like there was a spot for women’s journals with a pretty design,” VanBuskirk said.
Flora’s pilot program, launched this past April, introduced journals featuring a watercolor design painted by Besjana Kryeziu, a female student from Kosovo’s University of Prishtina. In less than two days, VanBuskirk and her team of five sold out of the 150 journals they ordered.
“We sold out in less than two days, and were able to fund eight semesters (a full four years of college education) for (Ema) at The University of Prishtina,” VanBuskirk said.
Amidst this pilot program, VanBuskirk’s team also launched a social media campaign. Their website had over 600 hits from across 24 countries, while a total of 9,700 individuals were reached through Flora’s social media sites.
“I thought that we did a good job of reaching a wide variety of people during this short time,” Miami University senior Elizabeth Arington, Flora’s social media manager, said. “I think it was really cool that even though we were all in Ohio, we were able to reach people in several different countries and all across the United States.”
Since graduating from Miami this past spring, VanBuskirk has moved to Dallas, Texas, to work as a deputy communications director at Nouveau Incorporated.
“With the success of the first pilot, we saw that there was a market for journals like this that help consumers directly invest and help women, so we decided that we’re going to try out a different product at a different university, and see if that same success will be transported to a different culture and different market than at Miami,” VanBuskirk said. “Now I’m working down here to network with students at universities in Dallas to see if we can launch another pilot here.”
For Flora’s next pilot, the VanBuskirk twins hope to sell both journals and planners.
“To me, Flora meant giving a young woman an opportunity similar to my own that I’ve received here in the United States,” VanBuskirk said. “I think that the greatest lesson I learned in Kosovo is how I am blessed here in America. With Flora, I’m able to pass opportunity to other young women.”
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