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Aquinas Alumnus Receives Congressional Fellowship

[Editor's Note: Kelly will be the keynote speaker at the Resourceful Women's Conference on March 31, 2012. >More ]

“Nobody who worked with her was anything less than astounded,” Dr. Michelle DeRose, English professor and Insignis Director, said about ’06 Aquinas graduate Kelly Dittmar. “We all should be so lucky to work with students like Kelly. She still stands out in my mind as fabulous in every way.”

Dittmar, who finished her Ph.D. in Political Science at Rutgers University in October, is one of the seven winners of the Congressional Fellowship for spring 2012. The Fellowship, awarded by the American Political Science Association (APSA) is the oldest, most prestigious congressional fellowship which allows only a select few political scientists, journalists, doctors, federal executives and international scholars to gain a first-hand understanding of the legislative process. She is the first Aquinas and Rutgers student to ever receive this highly-respected fellowship.

“I was very lucky to receive the APSA Congressional Fellowship. It is a great honor and allows me to be a part of ‘practical politics’ after spending five years in the academic realm of political science,” Dittmar said. “I am so incredibly thankful for my experience at Aquinas, and I know it has shaped the last 10 years of my life in so many wonderful ways.”

Dittmar, after interviewing with several different offices in Washington, D.C., was offered a position in the office of Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and accepted. She will be working within the U.S. House of Representatives on legislation which concerns women, children and families.

“She was absolutely in the top three students that I’ve had in my years of teaching, just an outstanding student,” Dr. Roger Durham, Chair of the Political Science Department, said. “I have the upmost confidence that she will represent herself in not only a professional but in a scholastic and intellectual way. She’s the real deal.”

Dittmar, who graduated from Aquinas with majors in political science, Spanish and sociology, also participated in Model UN and POLIS, was a Student Ambassador and Orientation Team Mentor, and was a member of the Insignis Honor Society. Dittmar also worked for Up ‘Til Dawn, which raises money for St. Jude’s Research Hospital, was a part-time employee in the career and counseling center as well as the President’s Office, studied abroad in Costa Rica and was an intern in the office of then-Governor Jennifer Granholm.

“She was the student who everyone would be surprised that she did so much for other people, because you couldn’t believe how much work she was doing for you,” Dr. DeRose said. “I wasn’t surprised [by the Congressional Fellowship]. It was yet another example of how you can never underestimate what she will accomplish.”

Dittmar was also awarded the Outstanding Aquinas Woman Award, the Outstanding Senior Award, and the Bukowski Award for the Outstanding Graduate. However, as Dr. DeRose explained, it was the reaction of a father visiting campus with his son which best summarizes who Dittmar was at Aquinas. After noticing them waiting for Dr. Durham in Holmdene, Dittmar sat and spoke with them for 40 minutes, after which the father approached Dr. DeRose in her nearby office to say “If this is the kind of student this college attracts, my son is coming here.”

“And that was just one encounter with Kelly,” Dr. DeRose said. “So that should probably illustrate the kind of person she was, she drew people here.”

As the story demonstrates, along with Dittmar’s reaction upon being asked about Aquinas, her undergraduate experience certainly holds a lasting impact on her post-graduate life.

“I always tell people that my time at Aquinas provided invaluable preparation for graduate school,” Dittmar said. “Coming from Aquinas, I was used to the small class size, class discussions/debate, and writing that is demanded of graduate students. For many others in my graduate program, this was all new to them. I was able to hit the ground running and was lucky to have my Aquinas friends and mentors there with me when I needed them.”

Dittmar continued the work she began at Aquinas on gender dynamics in politics with her Ph.D. dissertation titled “Campaigns as Gendered Institutions: Stereotypes and Strategy in Statewide Races”. Her dedication to studying women and politics, in particular the need for equal representation and voice in the government, influenced her decision to focus on legislation which deals with labor, education, immigration, paid family leave, paid sick days and paid equity.

“My Aquinas experience was invaluable. I found a family of friends, mentors, and colleagues at Aquinas and continue to treasure my time there,” Dittmar said. “Aquinas was the perfect fit for me because it allowed me to explore multiple areas of study while being a part of a close-knit community. My professors were not only teachers in the classroom, but were also mentors to me as I decided what would come next in my career.”

Dittmar will remain in Washington, D.C. through mid-August, after which she will determine whether she will pursue a career in academia or politics.