During the winter holiday break, we are reposting some of the best blogs produced by past Brock Center contributors.
Contributed by Emma Manoukian
In August 2017 I was completing my second summer working out in vineyards for E&J Gallo Winery; although my love and understanding of production agriculture grew because of this experience, I was ready for the next adventure. Hoping to combine my passion for agriculture and advocacy, along with the timeliness of the 2018 Farm Bill, I immediately began the lengthy process of pursuing an internship in Washington, D.C.
Despite my lack of experience in the political realm, I was very blessed to have a handful of friends who had previously worked on Capitol Hill, who were willing to help me navigate my search (thank you Cal Poly). Washington, D.C. is the home to over 20,000 interns annually, however that number dwindles drastically when you start narrowing down your specific interests and age requirements. For me, I was only a sophomore, I knew that I wanted to work in the Agricultural Industry, but I was not in the position to work unpaid or take a quarter off of school – this alone made my search much more competitive and difficult.
By January, I had applied to over 50 companies and organizations, interviewed with around 20, and been rejected by too many to count. At this point, I was stuck between giving up and trying again next year or staying positive and chalking up my rejections as great interview experience if nothing else. Choosing the latter, I spent extra time preparing for each interview and spent copious amounts of time on the phone with my mentors and parents soaking up advice and encouragement. Finally, by the end of January, I started receiving some offers, and it was such a good feeling being able to begin weighing my options.
My search officially ended on January 28th when I accepted an internship at K•Coe Isom, the leading accounting and consulting firm that specializes in food and agriculture. As their Federal Affairs Intern, my primary focus was on agriculture trade policy. Hoping to get my hands dirty with the Farm Bill negotiations, it was a blessing in disguise that my focus shifted to the emerging trade war. Working with our partner, Farmers For Free Trade, I was in charge of creating a firm-wide tariff tracking document that outlined all of the commodities that were slapped with tariffs and by which country, what percentage tariffs were set at, and when they would be implemented. This allowed the firm to identify potential clients needing federal affairs work, and which current clients would be the most impacted. In an ever-changing, fast-paced work environment, I sometimes felt like I was constantly treading water, but never reaching a steady freestyle. This feeling pushed me to be a diligent question-asker, a skill that I can take back with me to the classroom and to future jobs.
Although I came across a new-found interest in trade policy, the most valuable part of my experience in D.C. were the readily-available learning and networking opportunities. Because Capitol Hill is flooded with interns each summer, many local universities and student groups host networking happy hours or seminars with incredible guest speakers. Additionally, there are many housing organizations that offer dorm-style living for interns that allow you to rub elbows people from all over who share similar interests. I attended seminars created for interns focusing on a broad range of topics including national defense, presidential speech writing, and workforce development – to name a few. Most notably, I had the opportunities to hear from and meet Senator Marco Rubio, White House Advisor Ivanka Trump, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Fox News Anchor Shannon Bream, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Aside from intern-series events, the amount of experiences at my fingertips simply due to my location made each day unique. It became a daily routine to walk home from work and immediately turn on the local news to scope out if their were any interesting interviews or demonstrations taking place around Capitol Hill. One highlight was standing on the steps of the United States Supreme Court as President Trump announced the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. There were hundreds of protesters and special interest groups present, and it was incredible being so up-close and personal to the action.
Although protests and demonstrations are frequent on the Hill, every now and then there were massive national protests. I will never forget first-hand witnessing the tens of thousands of people that filled the streets of the D.C. for the Families Belong Together March. Although I did not participate, my eyes filled with tears as I watched the first amendment expressed so passionately. I had a true “aha” moment thinking about how blessed we are to live in the United States, where we can express our grievances or views so freely and are protected by the laws and the brave men and women who sacrifice everything to uphold them.
Looking back on my time in Washington, D.C., I can’t help but smile and appreciate all those who made chasing my dream possible. If you have an interest in policy or government, I encourage you to consider your options in D.C. – you won’t regret it.