Kestlyn Willert: Public Policy Intern with American Frozen Food Institute

Kestlyn Willert standing in front of White House

This summer, Kestlyn Willert interned with the American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) as their public policy intern in Washington, D.C. AFFI represents America’s frozen food and beverage makers. Their members are farmers, fruit and vegetable growers, makers of prepared meals, suppliers, and distributors that provide over 670,000 American jobs. 

How did you find this internship?

I found this internship through one of my professors in the Agricultural Communication & Education Department (AECM). When my professor sent out the internship posting to the AECM majors, I knew that it would be the perfect intersection between agriculture and policy that I was looking for in a summer internship. 

What were your primary responsibilities?

Since our government relations team was fairly small, I had the opportunity to work on a wide range of tasks. During my internship, I scheduled congressional meetings for our fly-in which took place in May. I also scheduled and sent follow ups for the Hill meetings that my supervisor and I attended. This year, the Farm Bill is set to expire so my supervisor and I were lobbying on behalf of the Supporting All Healthy Options When Purchasing Produce (SHOPP) Act. The SHOPP Act would amend and modernize the GusNIP and Produce Prescription Programs within SNAP to include frozen fruits and vegetables. Additionally, I spoke on behalf of AFFI to both Senate and House offices in multiple coalitions including the SNAP Choice Coalition and the Manufacturers for Sensible Regulations coalition. I also had the chance to represent AFFI at numerous receptions and PAC events. Finally, I wrote eight editions of a bi-weekly newsletter titled Washington Impact which was sent to over 500 AFFI members. 

What have you learned from this internship?

This internship afforded me numerous learning opportunities. Primarily, I learned the importance of effective lobbying and the critical role communication plays in Washington D.C. Also, I expanded my network and bolstered my networking skills by scheduling over 20 one-on-one meetings with young and senior Hill staffers and association workers. 

How has this internship prepared you for your future career?

My internship with AFFI equipped me with a real-world perspective of what working and living in Washington D.C. is like. Additionally, the networking, communication, relationship building, and public speaking skills I gained will be applicable long after graduation from the University and can be applied across a wide range of careers.

What have been your favorite parts of this internship?

My favorite part of my internship was getting to interact with AFFI members and the broader agricultural community. I am from a rural community in southeast South Dakota so moving to D.C. was a pretty big jump. However, I was excited to see the faces behind the work of AFFI by attending a frozen fruit facility tour with AFFI staff, the AFFI board chairman, and a senior staffer from the House Agriculture Committee. Additionally, I attended a Farm Bill listening session in Weyers Cave, Virginia where the AFFI board chairman spoke about food manufacturing to House Agriculture Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson. The Farm Bill listening session opened my eyes to the important conversations happening at the state level that contribute to the development of the next Farm Bill.  

How has POL 3080 Internship in Politics or Government enhanced your internship experience?

The political science internship class gave me the opportunity to reflect on the experiences I was gaining through my internship with AFFI. The weekly reflections along with feedback from Dr. Soper encouraged me to dig deeper and practically apply the knowledge I have been learning in my political science classes to the "real world."

What advice would you give to other students interested in this type of internship?

My best advice is to go for it and take full advantage of the networking opportunities in D.C. Prior to accepting my internship with AFFI, I never imagined I would be lobbying on behalf of frozen food. I grew up raising cattle and my majors are in Agricultural Communication & Marketing and Animal Science so I expected that I would be working more in production agriculture. However, taking a leap and accepting this internship allowed me to work in the intersection of food and agriculture while still staying involved in policy. Finally, D.C. fosters a culture of networking, so take the full opportunity to learn from as many industry experts as possible and build professional relationships with them!

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