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Congressional Fellowships
on Women and Public Policy

Class of 2005


In 2003, Nita Elison was appointed to a vacant seat on the City Council of Lexington, Kentucky, and now finds herself in Washington after a close but unsuccessful election. Nita served in the Air Force for 20 years, holding a wide range of education, administration, and command posts in the U.S. and in Germany. Married to a fellow officer when the Air Force adopted a new policy allowing married women with children to remain on active duty, Nita raised their two children, Patrick (now 28) and Michelle (now 26) while in uniform. By the time she retired from the Air Force, Nita had earned two bachelor's degrees--from the University of Maryland in psychology and from St. Leo College in human resources--and two master's degrees--in education/history from Eastern Kentucky University and in international relations from Troy State University. Since retirement, she has earned post-graduate certificates from Ohio State and Troy State, taught college for five years, worked in public schools for five years, written a children's book, and volunteered for many political campaigns, most recently in the special election of Rep. Ben Chandler to the U.S. Congress.


Jaime Hawk has accepted a position as a legal fellow for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, working with his Senate Judiciary Committee staff on a variety of issues including immigration, bankruptcy, judicial nominations, the ERA, and civil liberties. A strong advocate for women's rights, Jaime serves as the Washington State Coordinator of Amnesty International's Stop Violence Against Women Campaign and was the national Law Student Division liaison to the American Bar Association's Commission on Domestic Violence. At the Casa Myrna Vasquez Domestic Violence Center in Boston, she worked with victims on crisis intervention, support counseling, and safety planning. Jaime also served with the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights in Montenegro, where she researched sex trafficking and other human rights abuses. She has volunteered at a Missionaries of Charity orphanage in New Delhi; organized a "Mission: Possible" service trip to the Dominican Republic; and was part of a Witness for Peace political delegation to Cuba. A cum laude graduate of Gonzaga University in political science, Jaime also earned a cum laude law degree from Gonzaga's School of Law, where she was a Thomas More Scholar and received both the Morey-Maurice Leadership and Service Award and the 2004 Public Service Award.


Debbie Jessup is working with Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard on HHS appropriations, health, and women's issues. A nurse-midwife and mother of three teenagers, Deb is in the dissertation stage of a doctorate in nursing and health policy at George Mason University. Since majoring in biology at Tulane University, she has earned three master's degrees--in nursing from Pace University, in nursing (midwifery) from Columbia University, and in health education from Teachers College. While pursuing these degrees over the past 30 years, Deb has worked as a childbirth educator, a labor and delivery nurse, and a certified nurse-midwife in hospital, home, and birth-center settings. In 1982, she established the first midwifery practice in Billings, Montana. After completing the 2000 Primary Care Policy Fellowship at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, Deb was instrumental in developing a Division of Women's Health Policy and Leadership at the American College of Nurse Midwives, and serves as its first and current chair. Deb is an active volunteer at schools, church, the Fairfax County 4H, and the Girl Scout Council of the Nation's Capital. She has also done considerable time as a "soccer, cheerleading, volleyball, basketball, equestrian mom" for 16 year-old Kolleen and 13 year-old twins, Katie and Kevin. She has been married for 17 years to a staunchly feminist OB/Gyn physician, Lee Raitz, who has been a constant cheerleader during her mid-life academic pursuits.


Irene Lin accepted a placement with the minority staff of the House Ways and Means Committee's Subcommittee on Trade, where she focuses on global trade issues. Irene received her master's in international affairs from the Institute of Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Her BA is from Amherst College, where she majored in American Studies. A former intern at People and PBS, Irene spent a year living in Zimbabwe working as a journalist and later for an NGO that advocates for Africa in the World Trade Organization. Irene spent another year on the road in the U.S., driving 20,000 miles across the country for a nonprofit educational website called "Odyssey US Trek," that explores facets of American history often overlooked by traditional textbooks. Returning to her home state of California, Irene worked for the Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition, researching how the lack of transit options affects the healthcare of poor and minority citizens, and for Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, where she produced a report on the ergonomic and health injuries suffered by Asian sweatshop workers. Since then, Irene has used her research and policy background for political purposes. She conducted opposition research for two (victorious) Southwestern gubernatorial candidates in 2002 and for Governor Howard Dean's presidential campaign in 2003.


Renee Neely works in the office of Rep. Robert C. Scott, covering a variety of healthcare, education, and workforce issues. Renee, who has a master's degree in counseling psychology and a bachelor's degree in political science from Bowie State University, is working toward a doctorate in clinical psychology at Argosy University. Her doctoral research project focuses on the relationship between domestic violence and the increased risk of HIV among low-income African American women. Along with her graduate studies, Renee has held a full-time job supervising a welfare-to-work program and has volunteered at the Children's National Medical Center. Renee has completed an internship in child and adolescent psychology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey as well as an externship in psychology at DeWitt Army Community Hospital at Ft. Belvoir, VA. Among her legal/legislative experiences: three years at the Office of Child Support Enforcement in Upper Marlboro, MD; a public interest policy graduate internship at the American Psychological Association; and a legislative internship with Senator Gloria Lawlah at the Maryland General Assembly.


Karen Persis handles women's issues in the office of Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Karen graduated from the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida, where she was named the National Association of Women Lawyers' Student of the Year. In addition to working in the Juvenile Division of the Alachua County State Attorney's Office, Karen served as president of Florida Blue Key, the oldest and most prestigious leadership honorary society in the state. In this capacity, she directed 120 volunteers and managed a $750,000 budget to organize "Gator Growl," the largest student-run pep rally in the nation, along with a Homecoming Banquet featuring Attorney General John Ashcroft as speaker. This meant hosting two comedians, a pop band, 40,000 cheering fans, the FBI, national media, countless protestors, and the nation's top lawyer all in one day. A cum laude graduate in journalism from the University, Karen served as women's affairs director of the student government and Panhellenic Council. In high school she was active in the Girl Scouts (ultimately becoming a troop leader), and also organized the first National Organization for Women high school action team in Broward County.


Brenda Ritson works on the staff of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, where she covers such healthcare issues as medical malpractice reform, Medicare and Medicaid, women's health, and access to healthcare in rural areas. Brenda has completed her fourth year of medical school at Yale University, where she is specializing in medicine and women's health. After receiving her BS from Boston University cum laude in human physiology, Brenda worked as a research technician in the Pediatric Hematology department of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She then volunteered at the Women's Community Clinic in San Francisco for a year as a member of the Healthcorps division of AmeriCorps. While in medical school, Brenda helped found a Women's Health Journal Club and organized a Hunger and Homelessness Auction that raised over $30,000 for homeless shelters and a food kitchen in New Haven. Though once a stand-out player on a nationally ranked high school basketball team, Brenda now prefers snowboarding and distance running.


Patty Skuster covers a range of legal issues, including reproductive rights, in the office of Senator Barbara Boxer. She earned both a law degree and a master's degree in public policy from the University of Michigan, where she received the Jane L. Mixer Award for Social Justice and was named the Women Lawyers Association Outstanding Woman Law Student. Her undergraduate degree in English is from the State University of New York at Geneseo. After college, Patty managed an independent dance company in Nashua, NH, where she not only trained in ballet but also kept the books. Her next stop was as a Peace Corps volunteer in Namibia, Southern Africa. There, Patty taught in a rural village; learned to speak Oshiwambo; organized a regional workshop for 80 young Namibian women on HIV/AIDS prevention, sexual decision-making, and careers; and helped construct a community library out of discarded bottles. Her other international experiences include interning in Geneva at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, study with the Naropa Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal, and researching the impact of the U.S. reproductive gag rule in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Patty's work in East Africa was funded by the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she has worked as a legal/legislative intern.