After defending his PhD dissertation in November 2021, Aaron Stuvland weighed various employment possibilities. In the end, the Schar School of Policy and Government PhD in political science student turned down several teaching opportunities and accepted an offer from the American Political Science Association (APSA) Congressional Fellowship Program.
“I had a few other options, but nothing that was more compelling than doing the fellowship,” he said.
The APSA Congressional Fellowship Program is a highly selective, nonpartisan program devoted to expanding knowledge and awareness of Congress. Since 1953, it has brought select professionals to Capitol Hill to experience Congress at work through fellowship placements on congressional staffs.
The nine-month program begins in November with an intensive one-month introduction to Congress taught by leading experts in the field. After orientation, fellows work in placements of their choosing and participate in ongoing seminars and enrichment programs.
Stuvland’s dissertation, “Talking Like a Populist? Exploring Populism in Six Western Democracies,” examines when and why parties “talk like populists” or use populist ideas, concepts, and frames to appeal to voters. To answer this question, he analyzed speeches and manifestos over the last 20 years in Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, the U.K., and the U.S.
Jennifer N. Victor, associate professor in the Schar School and a member of Stuvland’s dissertation committee, encouraged him to apply for the fellowship. A former APSA Congressional Fellow in 2004-05, she thought Stuvland would benefit from participating in the prestigious program.
“Working in this capacity on Capitol Hill has several advantages for scholars of politics, not the least of which is the opportunity to develop first-hand experience with the policy-making process in the U.S.,” she said.
Stuvland admits he probably would not have considered the APSA fellowship had Victor not informed him of it. (The last time a Schar School PhD in political science graduate earned the APSA fellowship was in 2015. Brian Alexander is now a tenure-track faculty member at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.)
“She thought it would be a good opportunity for me to gain experience in Congress and get a better sense of how it works and to do it in the context of this fellowship,” he said.
Stuvland, who is an adjunct instructor at the Schar School, aims for a career in academia after the fellowship concludes and believes the program will strengthen his skills.
“Having an up-close and personal perspective on how Congress works will enhance my teaching,” he said. “I see the fellowship as a good way to deepen my knowledge of American politics and equip me to teach a variety of courses about Congress, policy-making, and things like that. I want to bring that experience and that knowledge to the classroom.”
Stuvland, who also holds a master’s degree in political science from the Schar School, says relationships with his professors have been key to his success.
“They modeled not only what the school is about, but how to be a good educator,” he said. “That would be the one thing I would highlight at my time at the Schar School. A lot of good teachers, good instruction, good people.”