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Alumna Profile: H. Grace Schmitz

Many college students can relate to the dread that comes with the question: “What are you going to do after you graduate?” The expectation that they must have it figured out can be daunting, but 2008 Aquinas graduate Grace Schmitz is proof that if you pursue your passions, you may find yourself in amazing places doing things you never imagined - and making good use of your liberal arts degree at the same time.

The daughter of an Aquinas alumna, Schmitz was drawn to Aquinas because it was small and offered a liberal arts education. She felt that in a closer-knit environment where one-on-one interaction with professors was commonplace, she would have greater opportunity to grow academically and professionally. Schmitz found what she was looking for in her many classes with political science professors Dr. Roger Durham and Dr. Molly Patterson, her most inspirational instructors. “It’s not at every school that your professor knows you by name and will actually seek you out and talk to you about what your plans are,” she said, reflecting on the unique advantages that Aquinas gave her.
Schmitz graduated from Aquinas with her major in international studies and minor in political science. With a background in Portuguese from a high school exchange program to Brazil, Schmitz took a semester of Spanish at Aquinas and participated in a service-learning trip to Honduras in the summer of 2007.

Unsure of what she wanted to do with her degree, Schmitz headed to Spain after graduation and worked as a nanny for several months while she decided what the next steps in her career should be. Upon her return to the United States, she worked in Washington D.C. for two years. “Because I wasn’t working in a field I enjoyed,” she said, “it kind of pushed me back to what I had learned at Aquinas and that was the value of service and that’s what inspired me to get into what I’m doing right now.” She decided to return to her studies, choosing DePaul University in Chicago for her graduate work in public administration.

Schmitz’ graduate program led her to an internship in Cochabamba, Bolivia with Yo Voy a Ti, a non-profit organization that works with children and youth on the streets. She did administrative work for Yo Voy a Ti for a few months and loved the city so much that she chose to stay, even after leaving the internship to focus on her studies. Schmitz’ master’s research revolves around the impact that quinoa subsidies have on agricultural land use, making Cochabamba the ideal place to live while conducting her research.

Alongside her online graduate classes, Schmitz has begun working on her own non-profit organization. Based on an idea she had several years ago, she now has the resources and education to begin putting her ideas into practice. While still in its early stages, her non-profit would serve a unique niche, employing her graduate administration skills as well as her international studies degree from Aquinas. The organization will seek to promote awareness of human rights issues around the world by sponsoring and aiding young filmmakers, actors, and screenwriters who are “putting together socially conscious projects.” For example, they may be interested in producing a documentary about a social issue that falls under the radar of the average person. “People aren’t inclined to go and research a particular social issue,” Schmitz explained. ”A lay person is not going to go and look up a UN report on the state of refugees in the Horn of Africa, but they’ll probably watch a documentary about it.”

Schmitz has advice for current students: “Don’t take anything for granted while you are at Aquinas. Enjoy every single day you’re there. Use your professors as much as you can because there are so many other students who don’t have that kind of access to their advisors and their professors.” Aquinas can offer a kind of direction and personal attention that is hard to come by elsewhere - you just have to seek it out.