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For some, chess is purely a form of entertainment. But for Ashley Priore, a junior English literature and political science double major, chess has a deeper meaning — one that she is determined to help others see.
Priore’s recent acceptance to the Clinton Global Initiative University puts her on track to do just that. CGI U is the higher education branch of the Clinton Foundation, established by former President Bill Clinton. As CGI U scholars, students go through a year-long program, during which they are matched with mentors, attend conferences, network and launch individual projects. Priore said she first heard about CGI U last spring, but the foundation itself and the political aspects of it caught her eye.
“At first, I was just doing research about the Clinton Foundation. I was looking at the Biden campaign and I was trying to compare and contrast these two major candidates,” Priore said. “I was really inspired by the head of the Clinton Foundation and so I reached out to him. He then told me about CGI U and that it was a program I might be interested in getting involved with.”
Priore said she talked with the woman leading the University initiative, who was looking to reach more Pitt students. She said their conversation made her excited to begin the application process, which opened last November. The application itself was extensive and required a commitment to action, research and data numbers to support an initiative, Priore said.
“The foundation is all about having specific plans to change or impact your community,” Priore said. “The application was full of questions about why I would want to take part in an initiative like this and what I want to do to inspire people. So, I wrote about chess. How young women can use the skills that chess provides to fuel their own passions.”
Priore said her initiative centers around teaching chess to youth. She wants to develop a chess-based curriculum that can be used in schools and other teaching settings. Priore said chess can provide players with life skills that aren’t necessarily taught in the typical classroom.
“The curriculum is grounded in how chess teaches life and strategy skills, like strategic planning and decision making,” Priore said. “People want young individuals to be able to make good decisions, but how do we expect them to if they aren’t educated in these skills?”
Priore has been implementing her initiative on a local scale for several years. She founded The Queen’s Gambit Chess Institute in 2014 when she was in ninth grade at The Ellis School, an all-girls school in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood. Priore said her personal experience with chess inspired her to start the nonprofit and that going to tournaments when she was younger made her realize how many people simply do not understand the game.
“It’s not just about competitions, it’s about what it teaches you,” Priore said. “Reshifting the narrative around chess is really important, which is why I ended up starting the nonprofit. I’m trying to get as many young people engaged as possible.”
Priore teaches anyone between pre-K and 12th grade through Queen’s Gambit, with a focus on supporting young students of color. Priore said the institute conducts outreach programs in the Pittsburgh community and forms community partnerships in an effort to build sustainable relationships and to address inequities.
“We serve about one thousand students per month. The majority of those students are of medium to low income, families with diverse economic backgrounds,” Priore said. “Our focus is on the communities that really need this programming.”
Jacob Boyce, the board chair for Queen’s Gambit, said he started working with Priore in 2019 because he was looking for support with running his own chess club. Boyce, a Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher, said the mission of Queen’s Gambit pulled him in and encouraged him to incorporate Priore’s methods within his own club.
“Whenever I teach a new tactic, they have to come up with ways in which this could be analogous to the world we live in,” Boyce said, “I never did that before working with Ashley.”
Boyce said Priore’s dedication and perseverance enables Queen’s Gambit to expand and thrive. He added that he is not surprised to see her hard work pay off in other areas of her life, such as her acceptance to CGI U.
“She is the one that treads water for the organization,” Boyce said. “Pathfinding, trailblazing, Ashley takes the things she has struggled through and uses them. She is very passionate about making changes in the world.”
Priore said running Queen’s Gambit quickly led to an increase in her political interests. She added that an internship with Erika Strassburger, who represents part of Oakland and the rest of the City’s eighth council district, made her “fall in love” with the inner workings of government, specifically youth participation. Priore’s interest in politics grew, manifesting with Y’22, a movement to get young people on nonprofit boards as voting members. Priore said she noticed youth were not involved in decision making, which inspired her to create the organization.
“I noticed this lack of people understanding that young people have a voice and that they want to use it,” Priore said. “Y’22 is about research, policy reform, getting young people on boards.”
Madison Ricker, a senior political science and English major, started working with Y’22 last summer. Ricker said the idea behind organization aligned with her own interests and that her work with Priore has been a fulfilling experience.
“Y’22 spoke to me because Ashley and I connect on our ideas and views on youth leadership and engagement,” Ricker said, “Ashley always makes me think of what else I could be doing. I have grown a lot in my leadership and my work because of Ashley.”
Priore’s interest in youth politics expanded to a national scale with her founding of Youth Political Strategies during the 2020 presidential campaign. Priore said her work with President Joe Biden’s campaign made her notice the need for more young people to be involved with policy, not just organizing. Youth Political Strategies focuses on getting young people involved with political campaigns.
“Youth Political Strategies is about having youth vote directors or engagement directors on every campaign. We also have a big movement to get young people in the White House,” Priore said. “Youth Political Strategies is really trying to be the voice for youth policy because it is a very specific subject, young people care about so many things.”
Priore said she hopes to continue political work once she graduates in 2022, but is also open to any opportunities that come along on her journey. She said she will continue working to address and solve issues that she notices in society. Priore said her time at Pitt has been influential and has positively impacted her in many ways.
“Pitt was supportive from the beginning. I have mentors here, people who would help me, people who were here to support me,” Priore said. “I felt like when I came to Pitt I was part of the community. And when you feel like you are part of the community, you can flourish.”
Priore said the best advice she could give to younger generations as they look to find their own voices and their own passions is to just keep moving ahead, pursuing their interests, and entertaining new ideas.
“There are going to be people that don’t like it,” Priore said. “There are going to be people that say no to you. But that just means not right now. You just have to keep pushing forward.”