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Where Are They Now? Caleb Wright

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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT

April is National Intern Awareness Month and throughout the month we will interview past AgChoice Farm Credit interns. We recently spoke with Caleb Wright, past intern who now works for Versant Strategies, a public affairs firm located in Harrisburg, PA which specializes in agriculture, rural affairs, education and environmental issues. Caleb shared about himself and his role at Versant Strategies along with his AgChoice internship experience and perspectives.

Share with our listeners your story. What’s your background and how did you end up where you are today with Versant Strategies?

I was the grandson of the local veterinarian in Huntington County, Pennsylvania. I grew up on a family farm, 220 acres on the northern side of Huntington County, close to the Blair County line.

I grew up with a fondness and love for Pennsylvania agriculture. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be involved in ag in Pennsylvania, someway, somehow. I thought for certain I wanted to be a veterinarian. But I'll be honest, I went to college and organic chemistry was definitely that nail in the coffin for me of making it into vet school.

So, I refocused and took a wide range view about Pennsylvania agriculture and my interests. I always had been interested in what happens in Harrisburg and Washington, DC because we feel those impacts back on our farms in Pennsylvania, no matter the size. And so, I had an interest in it for a long time, but I never really made that connection.

At Penn State, I studied agricultural and extension education. I then taught high school agriculture at Eastern Lancaster County School District at Garden Spot High School in New Holland, PA.

After college, I accepted an offer from a mentor and a friend Dr. MeeCee Baker to join her at Versant Strategies where we were founded with an interest in agriculture. The company got its start with former appropriations chairman and no stranger to Pennsylvania agriculture, the Honorable John Barley. With that, I jumped in and got my feet wet in public policy, which is where we are here today.

Being able to work and engage on behalf of agriculture here in Pennsylvania, we are honored to also have some clients in Washington, DC.

I'll be honest, probably one of my favorites that I get to work with down there is National FFA. It’s a fun connection to make on behalf of their organization and my background as a former state FFA officer and national officer candidate here in Pennsylvania.

What do you enjoy the most about the work you do at Versant and why?

Like farmers out in the field, no two days are the same and you never quite know what's going to happen until you get into that day. I love that aspect about what we get to do.

Versant is a public affairs firm. Some people call us lobbyists, but our job is really to be a connecting link between our clients and the Hill. Whether it be Harrisburg or DC. Part of my role and responsibility is day-to-day management of clients and lobbying on their behalf.

The other aspect of what I get to do is engaging and working with some associations. For instance, the Pennsylvania Forestry Association is one of our clients where we help put the organization into the day-to-day management of their organization, which I love that aspect, working with the Forestry Association. Also, we manage the Pennsylvania Pest Management Association.

When it comes down to it, I enjoy knowing that I get to make a positive influence on our client's behalf. And that goes back to support farmers.

Being able to influence decision-makers, policymakers, public policy, and learning about our client's experiences and helping them tell their story to move the needle on issues that are important to them.

It really is a fun role. Something I never really thought about doing, never knew it was out there, but really am thankful to be able to dig deep into public policy on behalf of the clients of Versant Strategies.

I know it has been a few years since you were an AgChoice intern. However, could you reflect on that experience – what did you learn and how do you think it helped you get to where you are today?

While I had some amazing experiences in clubs and organizations at college, I really enjoyed my internship with AgChoice Farm Credit where I was based in the Curryville office. Now that office has moved up the road just a little bit to Martinsburg, but I loved the professional experience and it was honestly one of the first true professional work experiences that I had.

Whenever I was focusing in on graduating from college, I knew I needed to get a job afterwards. I funded my own college experience and so for me, working at AgChoice was kind of multifaceted and its value to me first and foremost, it was amazing professional development experience for me. Learning how to be part of a work environment. How to engage and how do you work through and sort through some of those challenges potentially that you're going to face.

Secondly, to me, it was an amazing experience. Farm Credit is highly regarded in Pennsylvania agriculture and American agriculture, the System as a whole. For me to be able to say that I had connections, relationships with the people that are making decisions there and that they were willing to discuss my work and what I was doing as an intern.

I reminisce fondly about my intern project that focused on the role of fruit and vegetable production and AgChoice’s overall portfolio and strategies that AgChoice could consider to expand that, for lack of a better phrase, piece of the pie. I remember serving pie at our final presentation. I believe that might be the one reason that I got high marks on that presentation.

It was an amazing experience that added a great tool in my toolbox for whenever I approached that next opportunity that followed shortly thereafter.

Although you currently work in public affairs, you told us earlier that you have a passion and interest in education as well. As we wrap up today, could you share with our listeners your perspective on the value of hands-on education experiences such as internships?

Anyone who is looking at expanding their opportunities in anything that they're trying to accomplish, internships and hands-on work experiences are invaluable. I would underscore that three times.

These experiences really show what you're able to accomplish. Resumes that include those experiences are invaluable whenever a future employer is looking at what you're hoping to do and what you're hoping to accomplish. No matter what type of position you're looking at getting into, whether it's a trade, a white collar profession, or whatever it may be, those experiences and the ability for a future employee to be able to showcase and show what they're able to accomplish along with a recommendation and a connection to someone who oversaw them and can justify and validate what they're speaking to is invaluable.

I am so thankful to AgChoice in full genuineness here. I'm thankful for that experience that I had at Farm Credit. I was with a group of four other interns, three of which, we remained super close and I love connecting with often and it's amazing to see the great things that they're able to go and accomplish.

I had the opportunity to building a network, and I can't underscore the role that it played in my professional development. It's an amazing part of my background that I'm super thankful for the opportunity.

I encourage anyone that's looking for a different experience to try something new and consider hands-on experiences.


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