(Original article By Peter Carrels, South Dakotan Health 2017)
“Through my counseling lessons in addiction studies, I learned about working with others and managing behaviors and moods. This serves me very well in politics as I deal with determined people.” – Ross Deitrich, USD Addiction Studies Graduate, 2013
When Ross Dietrich completed his addiction studies degree at USD in 2013, he’d also earned a minor in political science. “I have a strong interest in policy and legislative matters,” explained Dietrich.
After graduating, Dietrich, a native of Tea, South Dakota, worked as a case manager for Southeast Behavioral Health in Sioux Falls for about a year. But his interest in legislative policy and politics motivated him to move to the Washington, D.C. area to serve an internship at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA). That was followed by a four-month internship in Sen. John Thune’s Washington office. He then accepted a job offer to work for Thune and the Senate Commerce Committee on issues related to highways and other surface transportation matters.
“Through my counseling lessons in addiction studies, I learned about working with others and managing behaviors and moods. This serves me very well in politics as I deal with determined people.”Dietrich now works for Alaska’s sole congressman, Don Young, handling transportation, infrastructure and labor issues. Congressman Young was first elected to Congress in 1973, and is the second longest serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives, winning re-election 21 times.
Dietrich is one of nine staffers in Young’s D.C. office, and one of five who are specifically tasked with working on and advising the congressman about legislative issues and matters. Dietrich’s life is demanding. As part of his assignments regarding transportation, infrastructure and labor issues, he researches, writes and consults. There are committee meetings to attend and monitor, reports and documents to study, and lobbyists and issue experts to meet.
As he deals with people in complicated and often pressing circumstances Dietrich recalls lessons learned at USD in addiction studies and counseling courses. “Through my counseling lessons in addiction studies,” explained Dietrich, “I learned about working with others and managing behaviors and moods. This serves me very well in politics as I deal with determined people.”
Dietrich relies on other skills he learned at USD. “While I was at the university,” he said, “I learned about analytical thinking and critical research. I also learned how to synthesize information. All are valuable in my work.”
During his service in Washington, Dietrich has also been able to apply the knowledge he gained during his time as a student in addiction studies. “I was a source of information for professional congressional staff asking about South Dakota’s 24/7 program, and I also worked on hair testing legislation that included a clearing house for drug and alcohol testing,” Dietrich explained. “I had studied these topics while I was a student in the addiction studies program at USD, and I’d also worked with the 24/7 program while a case manager in Sioux Falls. It was gratifying to be able to apply that knowledge directly to national policy and legislation.”
The future likely holds more adventure and opportunities for Dietrich. Before he left South Dakota, Dietrich took classes in the addiction studies graduate program. He doesn’t dismiss resuming his pursuit of that degree. “I’ve taken some time away from the addiction studies program to commit to my current job,” said Dietrich. “There is a possibility that I may return to the degree and complete it.” Dietrich is also contemplating other directions. “I am currently studying for the LSAT while working on Capitol Hill,” he reported. “A law degree would open so many options here in Washington, D.C. or if I return to South Dakota. South Dakota has a strong drug court system that is really appealing to me. As an attorney, I could contribute to the ‘Recovery Cause’ needed not only in South Dakota but the rest of the nation, as well, while utilizing my bachelor’s degree in addiction studies.”