Timber Creek Alum Kathryn Ammon became the first student from the University of Kansas to win the George J. Mitchell Scholarship. On Nov. 17, 2018, the KU senior was notified that she was awarded the scholarship, receiving the chance to travel to Ireland to complete a year of graduate study.
“I was actually still in Washington D.C. getting ready to go out for drinks with a friend, and I got the phone call from the head of the US-Ireland Alliance letting me know I was going to be a Mitchell Scholar,” Ammon said. “I was shocked, I don’t think I squeaked out more than an ‘oh great’ and then I hung up, started crying, and called my partner, my fellowship advisor, and then my parents. I was then late to meeting my friend, saw her and just started crying more.”
According to the University of Kansas, Ammon was one of 12 students from across the country to receive the award from a total of 370 students who applied. The scholarship sends American leaders to Ireland for a year, and is named in honor of Senator George Mitchell’s advocacy for peace in Northern Island. Ammon discovered this scholarship through KU’s fellowship advisor, Dr. Anne Wallen, in the spring of her junior year. KU does a combined campus application for the Mitchell, Marshall, and Rhodes Scholarships, and Ammon applied to be considered in May.
“I was interested in the fact that this scholarship was designed to provide study in Ireland and Northern Ireland, instead of the UK broadly, or a specific university,” Ammon said. “After doing some research, I realized Ireland had a lot of one year Master’s degrees like Equality Studies, Public Advocacy and Activism, or Gender Studies that interested me, and would be quicker than getting a two year Master’s degree in the U.S.”
Ammon is an abortion and reproductive justice advocate. She is involved with many organizations both on and off campus. Ammon was the treasurer, vice president, and president of Students United for Reproductive and Gender Equity at KU, which used education and activism to promote access to abortion, contraception, and sex education.
“I have worked for Planned Parenthood Great Plains as a Public Policy Intern, … where we were focused on keeping our Kansas Senators for dismantling the ACA, for Trust Women as a canvasser, and then for other national organizations. I also worked for Reproaction, a left-leaning digital abortion access group, on their campaign to spread awareness on self managed abortion in Kansas,” Ammon said. “I honestly look up to other ‘red state,’ [or midwestern and southern], activists that I’ve worked for or with. I’m inspired by how many people I know and love that choose to do this work in the hardest places in the country out of love for their homes and a desire to make things better.”
Alongside her work as an advocate, Ammon still maintains a strong academic record. She is a member of the University Honors Program, a University Scholar, and she completed a history thesis on the Seattle General Strike in the 2017-18 academic year. She hopes to expand her both her studies and her impact during her year in Ireland.
“I want to connect with Irish feminists and activists, soak up Irish culture, travel, and hopefully write a thesis that examines Irish culture, [including] the new legalization of abortion services in the area and whether legal abortion will mean accessible abortion services,” Ammon said. “I guess that’s another reason I applied to an Irish program, Ireland had a referendum in May 2018 that lifted the ban on abortion services–and this was a total ban [with] no exceptions until 2015, even if women would die without an abortion, and they did.”
Ammon graduated from Timber Creek in 2015, where she credits the beginning of her roots in activism. The lessons she learned during her high school years have helped her make a difference beyond graduation.
“I still credit Coach Roach’s APUSH class for why I was a history major, why I got interested in labor history, and why I might consider getting a PhD later in life. Other teachers, … like Mr. Metcalf’s European History and Coach Morgan’s Government classes also gave me the background to learn how to ask questions and critically analyze things, something that’s important for both academics and activists.”
Because of her early roots at Timber Creek, Ammon urges high schoolers now to find what they are passionate about and make an impact in society. National organizations like Advocates for Youth want to recruit youth as young as 14 years old and empower them with money and resources into making differences in their schools and communities. Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity, or URGE, has Texas organizers and wants to get more involved with organizing high school youth.
“Find the specific way you like helping [others, the community, or the environment] and do it. Or, if there’s a social problem that upsets you, examine where it exists in your school and community, and push back against it,” Ammon said. “Volunteer at places that sound interesting, take AP and dual credit classes–they don’t just teach you the subject matter, they teach you how to think and critically engage with the world.”