Ashley McGehee – Alumna Spotlight
Master Planner Principal, Walt Disney Imagineering
Hometown: Baldwyn, MS
BA in Art History (2011)
Minors in Art and Italian
After graduation, Ashley Chaffin McGehee earned a Master’s in City/Urban, Community and Regional Planning from the University of Florida. She also worked in historic preservation and conservation at the Preservation Institute in Nantucket, City of Fernandina Beach, and Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach. Upon graduation she joined the Wal Disney Imagineering Master Planning team, holding the current position of Master Planner Principal.
In this role Ashley provides pre-development, planning, and design support to real estate projects across Parks and Resorts. Her scope of work includes managing entitlements and the ongoing sustainment of property within the company’s real estate holdings, including Golden Oak, Flamingo Crossings, and Celebration. Ashley brings optimistic problem solving to her projects and a passion for visioning quality, beautiful places.
Why study art history?
I decided to study art history in high school. I’m a very visual person and love to create, decorate, and design anything, but I had never taken any art classes. I chose AP Art History as an elective my junior year at Tupelo High School just thinking it would be interesting. The class blew me away—it was challenging and engaging and I found myself getting lost in the stories behind the artists, the boldness and risks of their artwork, and the history and drama they illuminated.
Looking back, art history was the perfect field for my academic strengths and personal interests to grow. It combined my writing skills, love of history and nostalgia, strong sense of empathy, and desire to be surrounded by beautiful things. While I didn’t know what career path art history would take me on, it provided a great foundation.
Discuss a few highlights of your undergraduate experience at UM.
I enjoyed living in Oxford during my time at Ole Miss. Oxford is such a welcoming and artistic town. Through my internship with the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council and job at the UM Museum I met many fantastic people and experienced the power of the arts to build a sense of community. Working at the UM Museum was my first taste of a career in art history and a highlight of my undergraduate experience.
Outline your educational/career path.
During college, I was an intern at the University of Mississippi Museum and then was hired as the program coordinator until graduation. After graduating UM in 2011, I started graduate school at the University of Florida College of Design, Construction, and Planning studying historic preservation. I spent the summer of 2011 in Nantucket at a preservation field school conducting research on historic homes and learning traditional building methods. This once-in-a-lifetime experience made me realize my interests in preserving the built environment were much broader than Historic Preservation alone—I wanted to understand what makes cities thrive and be a part of the solutions to our cities problems.
As soon as I moved to Gainesville, I transitioned to studying Urban and Regional Planning with a focus on historic preservation. I choose internships and research projects that allowed me to explore all facets of city planning—historic preservation planning with the City of Fernandina Beach, design as an Anthony K. Baker Intern at the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, and community resilience planning as a graduate assistant working to create a plan for civic engagement in rural coastal regions regarding the impacts of sea level rise. The internship that impacted me the most was with Walt Disney Imagineering working on a new community they were developing—Golden Oak—on land development, real estate, entitlements, and architecture design review. I’m now a Master Planner Principal with Walt Disney Imagineering focusing on pre-development and real estate efforts for the Walt Disney World Resort.
Words of advice about the value of studying art history?
My educational foundation in art history and liberal arts is invaluable. My advice for anyone considering studying art history is to think about the broader reach—in my opinion the core of art history is communicating ideas, history, theories, and vision of a culture. An understanding of these skills is applicable in all professions and daily life.