From internship to friendship: CALS students bond over agricultural policy


Two students from North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) spent the summer in Washington, D.C., learning about agricultural policy through the Summer Internship Program in agricultural legislation from Senator Jesse Helms, while forming a new friendship.

Katie Forrest is a senior animal science student with a minor in agricultural business management with the goal of becoming a food animal veterinarian. Although she didn’t grow up on a farm, Forrest started working on a horse farm when she was about 10 years old and later worked with food animals.

MacKenna Clifton, a junior studying agricultural education with a minor in Spanish and farm business management, didn’t grow up on a farm either. In fact, his first farming opportunity didn’t come until he took a required course in high school. Her positive experience in the classroom influenced her decision to pursue agricultural studies.

Forrest and Clifton were interns in Sen. Jesse Helms’ Agricultural Legislative Summer Internship Program last summer — Forrest worked in Congressman David Rouzer’s office and Clifton worked in Sen. Thom Tillis’ office. The program was created to honor Senator Jesse Helms’ public service to the North Carolina farming community.

Katie Forrest, one of the interns in Senator Jesse Helms’ 2022 Legislative Agriculture Summer Internship Program, in Washington, D.C.

Under the program, students from CALS or North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State (NC A&T) University’s School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences spend the summer in Washington, D.C., working full-time in the office of a congressman.

Learn about Senator Jesse Helms’ internship program

With their different academic backgrounds, Forrest and Clifton had different goals for the internship. Forrest was interested in the internship because she wanted to learn the political side of food animal farming.

“Veterinarians play a key role in the food animal industry, and I think it’s important for them to know about policy and how those policies are put in place,” says Forrest.

MacKenna Clifton with Senator Thom Tillis
MacKenna Clifton, one of the interns of Senator Jesse Helms’ 2022 Legislative Agriculture Summer Internship Program, with Senator Thom Tillis

Clifton got a taste of Washington, DC when she attended the Washington Leadership Conference with the FFA, so when she received an email promoting the program, it caught her eye.

“I wanted to open my eyes to the opportunities in agriculture,” says Clifton. “I’ve always heard the statistic that we have over 200 careers in agriculture, but it was hard for me to visualize that. Education has many facets and is linked to agriculture through policies and relationships.

Making links with agriculture

Although Forrest and Clifton worked in different offices, they had largely the same duties, including attending hearings and briefings, writing memos, arranging visits, communicating with constituents and attending meetings. with agricultural leaders.

two CALS students taking a photo together

“It was really cool for me to see how every aspect of the farming industry, whether it was crops, animals, or whatever, was represented,” Forrest says. “Farmers’ opinions were valued and really prevailed in the policy-making process.”

Clifton also had the good fortune to work with farmers and other constituents in Senator Tillis’ office.

“It was a learning experience for me, but we were able to connect with people,” says Clifton. “Having those connections and helping them see that their needs were something we could help meet made the difference.”

Clifton worked closely with the legislative assistant in Senator Tillis’ office, Harrison Walker. He is an NC State alumnus and also interned at Jesse Helms in Senator Tillis’ office while in college.

A found friendship

Forrest and Clifton didn’t know each other before the internship, but they decided to live together for the summer. They became good friends and enjoyed exploring Washington, DC and the Capitol building together.

“I’m really grateful to Katie,” Clifton says. “It was cool to have someone to experience and explore DC with who came from the same school. DC is a big place and there are a lot of people there, so having someone I knew was a big comfort to me.

Forrest shares the sentiment about Clifton, as well as their other housemates. “It was a little scary doing an internship and not knowing anyone in a whole new city, but by the end of the summer, my roommates and I had really formed a strong community.”

two CALS students in New York
Clifton and Forrest on a day trip to New York this summer.

Clifton and Forrest also met several other friends around town through networking and conference opportunities, which were provided by the offices they worked in and through a Facebook-based agricultural intern network they we’re joining. These events brought together students from across the country.

Rhonda Sutton, CALS assistant director for student success and manager of Senator Jesse Helms’ internship program, was also actively involved throughout the summer.

“Dr. Sutton has been amazing this summer,” says Forrest. “All summer, she texted and emailed us asking what she could do to help us. us, and she is also an incredible resource for other students.

A lasting impact

Now that the two students have returned to Raleigh and started the new school year, they reflect on their unique summers and what their careers will look like in the future.

Forrest recently submitted her applications for veterinary school, and she’s excited to hopefully become a food animal veterinarian and use what she’s learned through the internship to advocate for the agricultural industry.

Clifton, who always thought she wanted to be an agriculture teacher, is now considering other political opportunities after graduating next spring.

“Before, I thought my only plan was to go to class,” says Clifton. “And although I still think it’s an option for me, I’m really grateful to have had this internship because now I’m interested in politics and I try to open my eyes to all the opportunities that can be offered by agriculture and education.

Applications for next year’s Senator Jesse Helms Legislative Agriculture Summer Internship Program are open. Open with a deadline of November 4. Interested students can contact Rhonda Sutton with any questions.


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