Payton, a Southeast Missouri State University junior from Shelbyville, Kentucky, is interning in the Washington, D.C., office of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“I have learned so much since being here in so many different aspects,” she said.
McConnell serves as a senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, which is offering Payton a window on the world of how policymakers shape the agriculture sector. She’s working on agriculture and energy issues, attending hearings and briefings, leading constituent tours of the Capitol, and assisting the policy and operations teams with administrative tasks. She says she’s expanding her knowledge on current agricultural issues while developing her speaking and people skills.
“There are always opportunities to learn something new, and I’ve been able to jump on so many” of them, Payton said.
She says she’s enjoyed networking with McConnell’s staffers, particularly the Legislative Correspondent with whom she’s been paired.
“Being paired really gives you the chance to get to know them, especially since the portfolio of legislative correspondence that I work with is of interest,” she said.
Payton also is meeting people from other Senate offices, departments and sections of government.
“I hope to take away a greater understanding of just how interactive our federal government is with its people and a greater understanding of just how hard it is to represent an entire state and nation while making decisions that will benefit as many people as possible,” she said. “I also hope to take away a better knowledge of agriculture, all it has to offer for the people, and how well it works within the government system.”
It’s an extraordinary opportunity for a student who is pursuing a double degree – a Bachelor of Science in agribusiness with an animal science option, and a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a French minor. Payton said she chose agribusiness as her major because “it’s what I’m passionate about, starting with a love of horses 10 years ago.
“My political science degree, however, was quite the hidden passion,” said Payton, who added the second major during her freshman year when her “Political Systems” professor convinced her it would better suit her ambitions.
“What excites me about political science is the opportunity to constantly grow and help others while you do,” she said.
Payton says her majors are a reflection of who she’s grown to become and where her passions have taken and will continue to take her.
She landed her internship in Sen. McConnell’s office through research with her parents and with assistance from the Kentucky Farm Bureau that provided her opportunities during high school and was eager to assist her with her interest in serving in Washington, D.C.
“My long-term goals are to work in the agricultural policy division,” she said. “Whether it’s for a state or federal association, I just really want to start building bridges for agriculturists and the government and, at the same time, provide better insight for the government to make fair policy for agriculturists.”
She also aspires to help clarify common misconceptions about the agriculture industry and relieve “existing tension.
“The goal is to work for the betterment of and for the agriculture industry the best I can,” she said.
Outside of her legislative internship, Payton is enjoying Washington, D.C., and immersing herself as a “local” while visiting spots unfamiliar to tourists for a little while.
“The absolute best part, though, as it always has been, and will be, is walking through the national mall at night when the Capitol building, Washington monument and Lincoln monument are all lit up,” she said. “There is something really awe inspiring seeing all of them lit up and just realizing that you are living and working where everything happens. It’s really humbling and inspiring to have that kind of feeling when you’re just walking home.”
At Southeast, Payton is a member of Student Government, Delta Tau Alpha, Pi Sigma Alpha and Collegiate Farm Bureau. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking with friends, fishing and spending time outdoors with her family and horse.
Eventually, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in both agriculture and political science.
“The next step is to follow my dream of helping to better the agriculture industry and bridge gaps wherever I can,” Payton said, beginning with finding some property and founding her own family farm.
“I firmly believe that you need to enjoy what you are studying because the goal in life is to have a career and the only way to have that is to love what you do,” she said. “I truly live by the saying, ‘When you love what you do, you will never work one day in your life.’”