Unique opportunities

Warren Fellows’ summer internships are part of a first-of-its-kind undergraduate agriculture program.

Last spring, when the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences hosted its annual donor appreciation event, Grayer Sherrill, NC State University senior in agricultural business management from Newport, came to the podium representing the inaugural class of Adolph Warren Leadership and Public Policy Fellows. He thanked Joe and Gail Dunn for funding the program in honor of Gail Dunn’s father, long-time Sampson County agriculture teacher Adolph Warren.

Through FFA activities, Sherrill had heard of Warren, whom he described as “a true hero of agricultural education in North Carolina.” So when he heard about the fellowship program, he said, “I knew it was something I had to get involved in. It’s been a true blessing.”

Also there to share that sentiment were the six other inaugural Warren Leadership and Public Policy Fellows, all now CALS seniors: Caroline Clement, agricultural science, Spivey’s Corner; Clayton Dellinger, agricultural science, Iron Station; Deans Eatman, agricultural science, Roanoke Rapids; Anne Link, animal science, Charlotte; Lynde Ring, food science, Warrensville; and Becky Zhong, plant and soil sciences, Chapel Hill.

By this fall semester at NC State University, the seven had even more to thank their benefactors for: true leadership experience. The Warren Fellows each took part in a summer public policy internship with public officials in the state.

Warren Fellows at CALS Tailgate booth.
Warren Fellows Anne Link (center left), Lynde Ring and Clayton Dellinger share information about the program at their CALS Tailgate booth.

The one-year Warren Fellows Program, for CALS sophomore, junior and senior students, is designed to develop the students in the areas of personal leadership, organizational leadership and public policy.

Dr. Marshall Stewart, CALS director of College Leadership and Strategy, worked with the Dunns to create the program. “The Warren Leadership Program is one of a kind in the country, as it prepares students in agriculture majors who have an interest in public policy with enrichment experiences throughout the year and a privately funded summer internship experience,” he said. “There hasn’t been a pipeline or on-ramp to prepare students for public policy work in food and agriculture in the past. This is a remarkable opportunity for our students.”

And the summer internship is a key component of that preparation.

Clement, who is from the same community as Adolph Warren – and “always looked up to him while growing up,” she said – interned at the N.C. General Assembly in the House of Representatives with Rep. J.H. Langdon from Johnston County. “I attended sessions, committee meetings and other functions with him to learn the legislative process and meet many people,” she recalled. “I also read a lot of legislation to learn about different things going on in the state. The biggest project to tackle was obviously the budget.”

Among her memorable experiences was working on the Farm Act of North Carolina, she said. “I also enjoyed meeting representatives from all over the state and forming relationships with them, as well.” Clement hopes to work in communications within the agriculture industry.

Lynde Ring’s internship involved working with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ policy development analyst Joy Hicks and observing collaboration with members of the General Assembly to implement legislation in response to concerns from the agriculture community and the department. Ring, whose career goals include working in food safety and public health, said the experience gave her “opportunities to see the concerns of the agriculture community being advocated through bills presented in committee meetings and legislative sessions. Moving forward, I hope to continue to be well-informed of agriculture issues and follow them through the legislative process.”

Ring also noted that “Joy Hicks was a phenomenal mentor. She really took the time to make sure I understood the legislative process and offered many opportunities to explore the other areas of the department.”

She added that her time as a Warren Fellow “has helped me understand who I am, what my goals are and how my passions, strengths and even weaknesses can help me reach those goals.”

Anne Link was assigned to intern with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, working alongside mentor Rochelle Sparko, CFSA policy director, in lobbying activities at the General Assembly. Among the key experiences she lists are developing relationships with lobbyists from partnering organizations; working in coalitions on specific bills, attending committee meetings, aiding in communication updates to members, and developing a leadership program; learning how bills moved, organizing information into a bill tracker and updating it; and gathering information in preparation for meetings with legislators.

These experiences, Link says, enhanced her skills as a community advocate, increased the clarity and efficiency of her writing and communications, and taught her to navigate the political structure of state-level politics.

Warren Fellows with Dr. Marshall Stewart
The inaugural group gathers for dinner with Dr. Marshall Stewart, who worked with the Dunns to create the program. From left: Ring, Dellinger, Zhong, Stewart, Eatman, Clement, Sherrill and Link.

“Being able to collaborate with other organizations and meet other lobbyists was the best. I really felt like I had a support system in my work at the General Assembly,” said Link, who would like to pursue a career in international food policy. She described her mentor Sparko as “fantastic and so supportive! It was the best relationship I have ever had with a supervisor, and she has so much knowledge to share. I really felt like I could take on a policy position after that experience.”

Also stationed at the General Assembly was Becky Zhong, who reported that she took part in a 12-week internship in the office of state Sen. Andrew Brock. “I always knew that it’s important to be engaged in public policy works, no matter what you study,” Zhong said. “This internship in the state senate’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee co-chair’s office has exposed me to first-hand policy creation and the negotiation process.”

The time spent “definitely broadened my view about public policy, especially on policy issues relating to agriculture and the environment,” she said. “The 2015 Farm Act and the biennial state budget, especially the Natural Resources and Economics portion, are just some of the bills that I paid attention to closely this summer while working in the senate.”

Zhong found the internship program to be “extremely rewarding to me. I am definitely more politically oriented than before.”

The Warren Fellows actually would often encounter each other at the General Assembly, she said. “Since five fellows were assigned to public policy offices of certain agriculture-related organizations, many of us saw each other in agriculture or other senate or house committee meetings and in session, as well.”

One of those five was Clayton Dellinger, who was interning with the NCDA&CS. He plans to use his experiences in the Warren Leadership Program to explore graduate degree opportunities in law and public policy. He envisions owning an agribusiness and taking an active role in public service in the future.

In his blog on the Warren Program website, Dellinger said that his internship taught him “more about state government than most would care to know.”

He was particularly impressed with the work ethic he saw exemplified by the state’s lawmakers: “Many senators and representatives travel three to five hours, some even more, to come to Raleigh, away from their families and lives, to represent the people of their communities and to attempt to pass legislation to better their constituents’ lives,” Dellinger reported. “Each week during session, they come to Raleigh to work on Monday afternoon and work tirelessly until Thursday evening and on occasion into the wee hours of Friday mornings, depending on the bill before the body.”

Eatman interned with the North Carolina Pork Council, an experience he used to explore opportunities for engagement in agricultural education and policy. His goal is to attend graduate school in law or public policy, followed by service to the agriculture industry, either in government or the private sector.

“The staff and board of directors at the N.C. Pork Council all took time to help me understand the full breadth of the work they do on behalf of North Carolina’s hog farmers,” he said. “Of course, none of the experiences which I and the other fellows enjoyed would have been possible without the generosity of Gail and Joe Dunn and the inspiring legacy left by Mr. Adolph Warren.”

Sherrill spent his internship with the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation (NCFB), working with its public policy team, under the direction of Jake Parker, NCFB state legislative director, and Paul Sherman, associate legislative director. His job as a public policy intern was to work directly with members of the North Carolina General Assembly on behalf of the 500,000 Farm Bureau membership families, to help secure implementation of agricultural and rural policies.

“Needless to say, my expectations for what I would learn during my internship were far exceeded,” Sherrill said.

Grayer Sherrill and Larry Wooten
Grayer Sherrill (left), a CALS senior from Carteret County, served a public policy internship with the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation. He is shown here with Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten.

Sherrill had three main learning objectives in his internship: to gain a better understanding of the legislative process and the role that the Farm Bureau has in it, to develop a greater knowledge of North Carolina agriculture and public policy, and to develop skills relating to agriculture advocacy.

“Overall, I had an amazing experience at the North Carolina Farm Bureau,” he said. “Most people can look back upon their career and identify people who were instrumental in the success of their lives – the true foundation of their careers. I believe as I look back upon my career, the individuals at the North Carolina Farm Bureau that I have had the opportunity to interact with throughout the fellowship will serve as those people.”

He aims to explore graduate opportunities in public policy and administration and hopes to pursue a career in government relations and agricultural advocacy.

It’s the type of career all seven will be uniquely prepared for, thanks to the Warren Leadership Program.

“There’s always something that would impact you from a public policy change, no matter if it’s at the community, state or federal level,” Zhong said. “We need to start early and cultivate more and more young people in all areas of studies to become oriented with public policy works.”

– Terri Leith