They fetched coffee, answered phones and led tours.
But they also got to participate in top-level policy discussions and witness the development of federal and state legislation.
Whether on Capitol Hill or at the North Carolina General Assembly, three exceptional CALS students experienced once-in-a-lifetime internships in summer 2017.
Here you’ll meet:
- Victoria Pender, a senior poultry science major from Wake Forest, North Carolina. She is the recipient of the Holly Farms Scholarship, CALS Agricultural Foundation Scholarship and Tom and Louise Morris Scholarship. Victoria was a Jesse Helms Legislative Intern in Sen. Thom Tillis’ office in Washington, D.C.
- Luke Stancil, a second-year Agriculture Institute student studying ag business from Clayton, North Carolina. Luke was a Helms Intern in Washington for Congressman David Rouzer’s office.
- Harrison Walker, a junior double-majoring in ag business and political science from Buffalo Junction, Virginia. He is the recipient of the Randall V. & Erika W. Canady Scholarship, Fred G. Bond Tobacco Scholarship and T. Newton & Josephine Cook Scholarship. Harrison served as a Warren Leadership Fellow at the North Carolina General Assembly working for House Speaker Tim Moore and Rep. William Brisson.
What made you decide to apply for these opportunities?
Victoria: I have always been interested in politics and policy, and I had never really found a way to make my love of agriculture and my love of politics collide. Then I discovered the Helms Internship, and it seemed like the perfect marriage of that love of agriculture and politics.
Harrison: I’ve never really held a job outside of my family’s farm. My family operates a tobacco farm, and I’ve been working there my whole life. I’m the first in my father’s family to go to college so I really wanted to maximize my educational opportunities and have some work experience outside of what I was used to and really broaden my horizons.
Luke: Before I went to Washington, I worked with my father’s lobbying company and also with another lobbying company that they’re affiliated with, and we represent the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, Monsanto and the North Carolina Agriculture Alliance. I’ve gotten to work on many pieces of legislation on a state level. I’ve always been interested in politics, especially in agriculture economics and policy. That’s always been my strength. So when Dr. John Russ told me about the Helms Internship, I thought it sounded great, and I applied.
What did you get to do in your internships, and did any of it surprise you?
Harrison: Day-to-day I handled a lot of constituent calls and e-mails, especially in the Speaker’s office. When there were controversial pieces of legislation in the General Assembly, we would get a lot of calls and e-mails and a lot of people coming in and visiting, and so I handled that with the other interns in my office. We got to do a little bit of work with redistricting, which was very interesting to see how that process works. I attended committee meetings and took notes for staffers and the representatives. In Representative Brisson’s office, I got to focus a lot on issues in agriculture since he is a farmer who represents rural North Carolina. I really enjoyed working for the people of Bladen, Johnston and Sampson counties because it felt a lot like working for the people back home.
Victoria: I did the general congressional intern things: I had to do the phones, I had to open mail, I had to give tours. I loved giving tours so I was always okay with that. But my direct supervisor, Towers, wanted me to have a unique experience, so I got to go to Senate and House Ag Committee hearings. I got to go into a lot of meetings with the ag staff … got to meet a lot of people, and got invited to receptions, which were good ways to network. The biggest part of my internship was when I got to present a personal project to Senator Tillis in a one-on-one meeting, which was kind of nerve-racking. I talked about policy and a couple of bills that were going through the House and Senate to help young people get involved in agriculture.
Luke: My internship was pretty similar to Victoria’s … you did the necessary tours; you did the basic answering the phones … but it was also different in a lot of ways. Some of the key highlights throughout the summer were when I got to attend various meetings with our ag staff and the legislative director … and then writing up policy proposals and briefings. The most prominent things that they worked on this summer were the China-US Beef Trading Agreement, NAFTA renegotiations and the 2018 Farm Bill. I was able to sit in different meetings about those topics and listen. I learned a lot and can now speak in detail about them.
What would you say was your favorite part of the experience?
Victoria: I’m going to pick two … one agriculture-related one and one about D.C. in general. I actually got to have lunch with Ray Starling, who is Trump’s ag advisor in the West Wing. To be able to speak with him about North Carolina and about his journey from CALS grad to White House advisor was fantastic. But I think my favorite non-agriculture experience was attending the Comey hearing. I volunteered to get coffee, and we waited in line for six hours … and that’s something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Harrison: I would say probably the most interesting thing that I got to be a part of was the last night of session. They adjourned at 2:20 in the morning, and it was really interesting to see how the General Assembly works, especially when they’re trying to get their legislation passed in the wee hours of the night. It was a real hands-on experience to be involved directly in passing legislation that impacts our daily lives.
Luke: Even though I’d been involved in the General Assembly since I was probably around 7 years old, I had never been exposed to D.C. So my answer would probably be just being in Washington. Being able to walk into the capitol, into the rotunda or near the House floor. Just really being in Washington to take in the whole experience. I also got to have lunch with Ray Starling. He realized how important our internships were, and he wanted to meet with us … he took the hours out of his day to talk with us. It’s something that a small-town boy from Sampson County is now working in the West Wing.
What was the biggest take-away from your experience?
Luke: I really thought that I knew a lot going into my internship, but being able to see the process that the federal Farm Bill goes through was really eye-opening.
Victoria: I think overwhelmingly the people that you get to meet because, no matter if you want to go back to D.C. or not, those people become resources. And I think the ag community in D.C. is a tight-knit community and they will help you.
Harrison: For me it was seeing there’s a whole world out there outside of Mecklenburg County, Virginia. I came to NC State as a freshman and didn’t know a single person here. So it was great building a network and meeting all kinds of people. I always thought that I would just go back to the farm and now maybe I’m kind of thinking about it a little differently.
What do you want to do after graduation? How did your internship experience shape that?
Victoria: I want to go back to D.C. and work on policy, whether that be working in an office or with a trade association or something like that, doing liaison work, lobbying work. Up there they call it “Potomac Fever,” and I have it. Everyone has said you either love D.C. and want to stay forever or want to go home immediately. I caught the fever.
Luke: I loved the internship and Congressman Rouzer’s staff. They are the A-team in Washington. I have the utmost respect for each individual in that office and Congressman Rouzer himself. I’m the opposite of Victoria when it comes to D.C. I was there all summer, and I would go back to Johnston County pretty much every other weekend. Whenever I would go back to D.C., I would bring 10 pounds of barbecue from Parkers BBQ in Wilson for the staff. I loved working in D.C. during the week … but I just love being on the farm. I plan to attend law school after I graduate and become an agriculture attorney. However, plans change and this opportunity to work for Congressman Rouzer and represent our university has helped me pave the way for my career goals to serve as a leader in agriculture.
Harrison: As far as my future, I’m kind of tied to the land really. Back home my family founded the town we live in and we’ve been there for hundreds of years. I’m really proud of being a seventh-generation tobacco farmer, but I also want to do more than just farm. That’s why I decided to go to college and branch out. I probably will end up back in Virginia, but this experience has really made me consider new career paths. I definitely have that entrepreneurial spirit that my father and grandfather have, but my experience interning at the General Assembly and travelling to Washington D.C. on our capstone trip have left me interested in working on the policy side of agriculture. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I’m sure I’ll do a lot of it.
Interested in learning more about these internships or other student leadership programs?
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.