Katelyn Ellis Submitted photo

Katelyn Ellis says it’s not that she’s smart, she just works real hard.

But come on. Over the summer, the 20-year-old Dixfield woman graduated as one of the first students to earn their degree from the University of Maine under the Maine’s Top Scholar program. It means that UMaine found Ellis so promising, they were willing to pay her full tuition.

Sounds smart to us.

Maine’s Top Scholar program, which began in 2017, provides high-achieving undergraduates with full tuition, a designated faculty mentor and opportunities for research experience. They’re also invited to join the Honors College.

Ellis graduated this summer with a bachelor of arts in kinesiology. We caught up with her this week and asked a few questions about her thoughts on the program and about her plans going forward.

In the press release, you are described as “high achieving.” I guess our first question is: how did you get so smart? Do you have any particular study tricks? The manner that I view myself in is not particularly “smart,” it is more hardworking, in my opinion. I have always set goals for myself throughout my academic career and I am a person who dislikes not meeting goals. In any person’s academic career, they conceptualize certain areas of academics more easily than others. For example, health care is an area that I thrive in because the topic interests most.


When it comes to English and understanding thorough literature, I have to work harder to understand the material and I typically have to put more time and effort into my studies. Overall, I would say that my drive for learning material that will pertain to my future is what has made me so “smart.” In regards to study tricks, I have learned that I am a visual learner. When I don’t understand a concept by simply reading text, I will watch a video on the topic and I will write down what I understood from the video afterwards. I would like to emphasize to any student, whether they are in college or primary education, studying is completely necessary. There is no point in simply memorizing material just for a test. The knowledge will not really sink in and then studying truly has no purpose. I always emphasize that students should be able to explain material in their own words or diagrams in order to show that they truly understand a concept.

When and how did you find out you were being named a Top Scholar? The Maine Top Scholars Award was not a scholarship that you could apply for. The University of Maine picks only 20 students out of an individual class per year to receive the scholarship. I initially was awarded a presidential scholarship to UMaine for $8,000 per year. I then received a letter in the mail from UMaine saying that I had been awarded a full ride to the university because of my academic excellence, merit and community service.

Did the Top Scholar tuition deal help you decide how or where to continue your education? This award 100% impacted what university I would attend. All the other schools that I was accepted to were either private schools or out-of-state schools, therefor the tuition was significantly higher than UMaine. I wasn’t considering UMaine initially, it was more of my back-up plan. I had hoped to attend the University of Rhode Island for pharmacy, however a full ride to a good school was hard to pass up. I am thankful that I went to the University of Maine because it allowed me to realize that pharmacy was not the path for me. I then discovered the kinesiology program and decided to pursue occupational therapy.

What is it and what about it interests you? Prior to attending the University of Maine, I had no idea what kinesiology was. It was not until one of my peers in my math class brought up the idea of it when I was considering switching out of the pre-pharmacy program. I began to research what a kinesiology degree could be used for and two careers stuck out: physical therapy and occupational therapy. I did not have a solid grasp on occupational therapy, so I began to dive deeper. I learned that OT is very similar to PT, but it focuses more on improving daily life skills that are inhibited by conditions or injury. This was very appealing to me and I switched into the program. The staff that led this program truly solidified my place at the university because they truly cared about the well-being of their students. The program is quite small and the class numbers never go over 30 students typically. The kinesiology program provided me a wide array of information, ranging from child development to anatomy and physiology. I am so thankful that I switched into the program and found my true career path.

What are your long-range plans? As I previously discussed, I plan to pursue a career in Occupation Therapy. I am hoping to attend the University of Southern Maine in the MOT (master’s occupational therapy) program. Their program is both close to home and affordable, which makes it more appealing. After I finish my MOT, I plan to begin practicing OT in a clinic or in-patient setting near my hometown.

What do you do when you’re not being super smart and going to school? I have quite a few hobbies that have stuck with me ever since I was a child. I love music and playing guitar, which is a pastime that I have loved since I was young. I have performed at the State House and at my high school graduation. I also do quite a bit of art, mostly as gifts or just to fill free time. I typically paint floral or nature paintings. Photography is a recent hobby that I have taken on, in which I do photo shoots with my peers and I have also done photography for the Greek life at the University of Maine. I love spending time with my friends and family, including my boyfriend, Caleb, and my golden retriever, Apollo. I am quite the home body, however I do love to travel. I recently took a trip to Oahu, which was a life-changing experience.

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