One is a former divinty student with billions of dollars in appropriations at his fingertips. Another is a poet who will help shape the federal budget. There is a judo expert, a medieval history scholar, a former urban renewal director. One even worked at Jimmy Carter's White House.

About the last thing that these young men -- and woman -- would seem to have in common is their jobs. Yet they do. They are the behind-the-scenes movers and shakers in the new Republican-controlled Senate: the new staff directors of the Senate's committees.

Overseeing staffs that range in size from two dozen to more than 100, they are important linchpins in the legislative machinery, with potentially enormous powers to affect legislative priorities, the substance of legislation and the pace of its progress through Congress. Their professional expertise -- or access to it -- gives them the power of knowledge their sometimes distracted, often thinly spread, senator-bosses lack. Most are less experienced in congressional power-wielding than their Democratic predecessors, although many are proven fast-learners. They start out with intense loyalty to their bosses and, in most cases, a strong philosophical compatibility with them.

They will preside over institutional fiefdoms that have grown explosively in recent years, but which, under a new GOP cost-cutting directive, are supposed to shrink by at least 10 percent during 1981. Some are already wincing.

Here are brief sketches of the new staff directors:

In 1972, George Dunlop took a summer off from doctoral studies in medieval history to help a candidate named Jesse Helms. No matter that Dunlop thought Helms was a Democrat running for the North Carolina Senate. Now Helms (Republican) is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Dunlop, 34, who is about as loyal an aide as a senator could wish, is staff director of the committee.

"I know what the senator wants. We think alike and we are very close. That allows him to trust us and give us a long leash," says Dunlop, who, as a member of the Reagan transition team on agriculture, proposed sharp cutbacks in the food stamp program and will oversee the committee's food stamp debate this year.

A North Carolina native, Dunlop ran Helm's state office for two years, then moved to Washington, where he became Helms' agriculture adviser in 1976 and then joined the committee's GOP staff. He never finished his doctorate in history but still reads Norman history. "I like to read about knights clinking heads," he explains.

Joan M. McEntee, who became staff director of the Governmental Affairs Committee at 32, has had a fast-moving 12-year government career during which she almost completed work on a law degree at American University.

She started as an intern and later legislative assistant to former senator Charles Goodell (R-N.Y.). She worked in congressional liaison at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, spent two years at the Office of Management and Budget and one unhappy year as a consultant to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Then she went to work for Sen. William Roth (R-Del.) as minority staff director at Governmental Affairs. When he became chairman, she moved up too.

There is a poet under the green eyeshades at the Budget Committee. Stephen E. Bell, the committee's new staff director, not only writes poetry, but he has been a semipro handball player, a newspaper reporter and editor and a creative-writing teacher as well as a campaign aide and press secretary for Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.). He is a member of the Writers Center at Glen Echo.

A self-described Libertarian, the 36-year-old Bell says he shares the conservative tax and spending policies that Domenici will push as chairman of the committee, although he describes himself as "much more liberal on social issues." He says he plans to continue the committee's generally bipartisan approach to budget matters. Although not trained as a budget expert, he has worked for two years for the committee in preparation for becoming staff director when Domenici moved up as senior Republican on the committee.

With Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) as chairman and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) as ranking minority member, the Labor and Human Resources Committee will be one of the premier political battlegrounds of the 97th Congress. Staff director Robert P. Hunter, 40, will be the main man behind the scenes.

Under Hatch's leadership, the committee got off to a fast start by expanding its investigative and oversight chores, targeted at many of the health, welfare and jobs programs that Democrats have championed over the years. "It's a great opportunity for Republicans to put up or shut up . . . to really make things happen," says Hunter.

Hunter was a trial attorney for the National Labor Relations Board in Cincinnati when former senator Robert Taft Jr. (r-Ohio) tapped him for the committee. With law degrees from Vanderbilt and New York University, Hunter played a key role in Republican strategy for derailing such Democratic initiatives as the union-backed labor law revision package three years ago.

Appropriations are the congressional version of manna from heaven, so divinity school credentials may come in handy for Keith Kennedy, 32, in his new job as staff director of the Appropriations Committee.

A budding clergyman in the early 1970's, Kennedy came to Congress by way of Duke Divinity School congressional internship program. Drawn to Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) because of Hatfield's religious inclinations, Kennedy returned to Hatfield's staff after earning a master's degree at Duke. For the last two years he served as minority staff director on Hatfield's energy and water appropriations subcommittee.

The Appropriations Committee, which Hatfield now heads, will be at the center of spending-cutback efforts by the Reagan administration and its boosters in Congress. Among Kennedy's goals are a better track record for completing appropriations bills, more cohesiveness among the previously semiautonomous spending subcommittees and improved working relations with the Budget and Finance committees.

Michael D. Hathaway, 44, staff director of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, previously was administrative assistant to the new chairman, Sen. James McClure (R-Idaho).

Hathaway has been a senior systems engineer in Chrysler's space division working on the Saturn Apollo project. He also headed a small electronics company in the late 1960s and was a staff engineer with the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association. He directed a House Republican task force on energy headed by McClure.

Hathaway wrote an "Analysis of Government Energy Policy" and shares McClure's belief that the way to energy sufficiency lies in more production which may collide with views of environmentalists. A former chairman of the Prince George's County Republican committee, he believes the American people "want radical changes in government," although he says he believes there is room enough for both environmental protection and energy production.

When Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) needed a bright young lawyer to put together a minority staff at the Finance Committee, he reached into the prestigious ranks of the Covington & Burling law firm to find Robert E. Lighthizer. That was two years ago. Now Lighthizer, at 33, is chief counsel of the committee, which, along with House Ways and Means, will be critical to President-elect Ronald Reagan's plans for cutting taxes and costly entitlement programs.

Lighthizer describes his philosophy as "moderate conservative, quite close to that of Sen. Dole" and, he hastens to add, "close to that of Sen. Long." tThis is a reflection of the close relationship between Dole and the former chairman, Russell B. Long (D-La.), which Lighthizer says he expects will continue. "I would like to think things won't be all that different," added Lighthizer. "Sen. Long did a fantastic job."

Kenneth P. Bergquist, 36, comes to the staff director's job at the Veterans' Affairs Committee with an insider's credentials: son of a retired Air Force general, six years as a Vietnam-era infantry officer, two years with the Central Intelligence Agency, a law degree, legislative work for Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) and strong feelings about the nation's debt to veterans.

He will supervise a relatively small staff of about 20, but its jurisdiction is enormous: $20 billion in programs for 3l million veterans. Far from seeing opportunities for budget-cutting in veterans' programs, he foresees a new "GI Bill" to help educate veterans.

William Diefenderfer, 35, Commerce Committee staff director, came to government largely by accident. A lawyer who had worked at Pennsylvannia's higher education assistance agency, he was just back from the Uiniversity of London, where he earned a master's degree, when a congressman needed a staff person on higher education and got Diefenderfer's name from the Pennsylvania agency. He went from a House Committee staff job to the Domestic Council at the White House under President Ford.

In 1978 he wrote job-hunting letters to 15 senators and heard from Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), with whom he signed on as minority staff director of the Commerce Committee. He says he was a registered independent when he came to Washington and changed his registration to Republican when he went to the White House, out of respect for the president. His hobby is judo and he was just short of a black belt when he recently quit competition.

M. Danny Wall, 41, staff director of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, was urban renewal director for Salt Lake City when the mayor, Jake Garn, was elected to the Senate in 1974. Garn brought him to Washington. Wall served four year as Garn's legislative assistant and then became minority staff director for the committee, switching to the majority job when Garn took over as chairman.

Wall shares Garn's preference for federal aid in the form of block grants rather than categorical aid. He says the committee will seek to expand the ability of the Export-Import Bank to increase U.S. exports, improve oversight of financial institutions and review regulations to implement last year's bank reform act.

John blake, 58, staff director of the Intelligence Committee, is new to Capitol Hill but has an insider's view of the world of spies and spooks. He was one.

A World War II veteran, Blake spent 32 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, starting in 1947 when the CIA was organized. He spent some time as an agent overseas. After serving briefly as the acting No. 2 man at the agency, he retired in 1979, signing on as president of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, an organization that lobbies for fewer fetters on intelligence-gathering activities.

When Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.) took over the Foreign Relations Committee, he found his right-hand man in the strangest place: the Carter White House.

Edward G. Sanders, 39, is a longtime executive branch employe who had risen to the rank of associate director for national security and international affairs in the Office of Management and Budget last year. He started as a budget examiner for Vietnam aid and trade programs in 1969.

Sanders' name rose to the top in a talent search conducted for Percy by Scott Cohen, his foreign affairs executive assistant, who summed up Sanders this way: "He's very knowledgeable, he had interacted with the Hill, top people in government are aware of him." Sanders has a doctorate in economics from Yale and spent two years with an economic advisory team at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon.

Bailey, Guard, 60, staff director of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is the dean of the pack, with congressional experience going back to 1956 when he became an instant expert on the tobacco program for then-senator John Sherman Cooper (R-Ky.).

Guard rejects the notion of "crusader," seeing his role as "helping the member do what he is sent here to do." The committee developed a bipartisan habit over the years, and it is expected to continue under Guard and his boss, Chairman Robert T. Stafford (R-Vt.). "It's not so much of a shift for us," says Guard, a minority staff member since 1967. "We've helped shape bills for years and let the Democrats take the credit. We have worked well together and we'll try to keep it that way."

Joseph DiGenova, 35, moved from administrative assistant to Sen. Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.) to become staff director of the Rules Committee when Mathias became chairman.

DiGenova served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, then worked for Mathias on the Senate select committee that investigated intelligence community excesses. He worked as special counsel to then-attorney general Edward Levi in 1976 and has worked for Mathias the past four years. He will be overseeing the 10 percent cutback in Senate committee budgets. The committee also plans a complete review of election laws, including financing, media projection of election outcomes and the hours that polls are open.

Quentin C. Crommelin Jr. is the new staff director of the Judiciary Committee, but the senior staffer is the chief counsel, Emory M. Sneeden, a retired brigadier general who signed on in 1976 with Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), now the committee's chairman.

Both Sneeden, 53, and Crommelin, 34, are lawyers with a conservative outlook that dovetails Thurmond's. Like Sneeden, Crommelin has military credentials, being a Vietnam veteran who is still a member of an Army reserve paratroop division. Sneeden was minority chief counsel to the committee in the last Congress. Crommelin came to Congree in 1976 to work for the late senator James Allen (D-Ala.), later working for Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind-Va.) on the Armed Services Committee staff.

If you guessed the staff director of Armed Services would be a grimly sober, forward-charging type, you would be mostly wrong. The work is serious, of course, but Rhett Dawson is known as a wry, grin-and-bear-it kind of guy.

"This field is full of people who take themselves and the issues too seriously," he said. "I'm not ashamed to be the other way."

Dawson, 37, grew up in Illinois, studied at Illinois Wesleyan, earned a law degree at Washington University in St. Louis and joined the government in 1972 in the old Office of Legal Serives. Three years later, Dawson moved to Capitol Hill and became minority counsel for the newly formed Senate Intelligence Committee.

After a brief tour with the Joint Committee on Defense Production, Dawson joined the GOP staff of Armed Services in 1976. Now, as staff director, he will be in charge of overseeing Chairman John G. Tower's plans to revamp the subcommittee structure. No laughing matter, that. CAPTION:

Picture 1, STEPHEN E. BELL . . . Libertarian poet; Picture 2, KENNETH BERQUIST . . . debt to veterans; Picture 3, JOHN BLAKE . . . inside spies, spooks; Picture 4, RHETT DAWSON . . . grin and bear it; Picture 5, ROBERT LIGHTHIZER . . . tax-writing committee; Picture 6, WM. DIEFENDERFER . . . education and judo; Picture 7, JOAN McENTEE . . . one unhappy year; Picture 8, GEORGE DUNLOP . . . knights clinking heads; Picture 9, EDWARD G. SANDERS . . . Carter White House; Picture 10, BAILEY GUARD . . . dean is no crusader; Picture 11, M. DANNY WALL . . . from Salt Lake City; Picture 12, ROBERT HUNTER . . . put up or shut up; Picture 13, KEITH KENNEDY. . . manna from heaven