When Mickeala Carter ’12 went to Washington, D.C., eight years ago, she did not know she was beginning a rewarding career in agriculture policy. Starting as a congressional intern in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Internship Program, ANRP, she now serves as deputy director of communications at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA.
As deputy director of communications for one of the largest departments in the federal government, Carter helps ensure that the USDA effectively informs farmers, producers and consumers about programs available to them. She also makes sure that communication efforts align with the administration priorities of the president, vice president and secretary of agriculture.
Carter manages a staff that produces wide-ranging communication efforts through writing, editing, creating social media and websites, and event support. She supervises press operations and collaborates with the communications staff of each agency within the USDA.
“We have the opportunity to showcase the vastness of the USDA,” Carter said. “Sometimes it feels like there are not enough hours in the day to complete so many tasks, but it is rewarding, and these programs are important to me. I know from working on Capitol Hill the impact they have on so many people. We help farmers, producers and, with programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, we help those who are hungry.”
Internship helped launch a challenging career
Carter’s career in supporting agriculture policy at the federal level began in 2013 as an intern with the ANRP. Students and recent graduates in the Texas A&M University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences program earn academic credit and gain practical work experience in public policy and government through semester-long internships in Washington, Austin or Rome.
After graduating with a major in agricultural leadership and development and a minor in communications from the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communications, ALEC, Carter served in U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela’s office. She knew within a week that she loved the work and wanted to stay in Washington.
“It was a farm bill year,” Carter said. “Congressman Vela was a member of the House Agriculture Committee and on the Farm Bill Conference Committee. In his office, I was able to do so many things as an intern that some people don’t get to do until they are two years into being a staffer. They allowed me to write the first draft of his newsletters that went to constituents. I wrote Tweets and Facebook posts and participated in meetings with farmers. In fact, I attended a dinner with folks from the Texas Farm Bureau and, to this day, I still talk to the person I sat by that night.”
At the end of her internship, Carter was offered a full-time position as a staff assistant in Vela’s office. For five and a half years, she served in increasingly responsible communication roles, becoming a communications director and senior legislative assistant. She then moved to the House Agriculture Committee as outreach coordinator and became director of communications and external affairs. Last February, she began her role as deputy director of communications with USDA.
Cultivating the next generation of agriculture policy leaders
Carter credits ANRP for helping her gain professional development skills in networking and connecting with people.
“ANRP is a well-known and respected program on the Hill,” Carter said. “In the application and interviewing process, ANRP sets the expectations very high for the interns who represent Texas A&M and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Even members of Congress who do not necessarily have a stake in voting toward the interests of agriculture try to get ANRP interns because they are so well-trained.”
Carter said College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students who serve in Washington are often well-suited for careers that impact and influence agriculture.
“Agriculture affects everyone,” Carter said. “The federal government needs people in positions of influence who understand and care about agriculture, protecting our crops and the needs of both rural and urban America. People who understand that what happens across the nation and the world pertains to agriculture can impact how federal-level policy-making decisions are made.”
First-generation student explored new paths
Carter’s career trajectory was not always clear. She began at Texas A&M as a biochemistry major and struggled with some of her classes.
“College can be intimidating,” Carter said. “As a first-generation student, I did not have a full grasp of what to expect. The professors and advisors want you to be successful, and I had to learn to ask questions and seek guidance and help.”
She explored other majors, enrolled in an agricultural communications and journalism course, and finally found her academic home in ALEC — a decision that prepared her for her career in agriculture policy and communications.
Carter said the coursework and faculty members in the department provided a broad, multidisciplinary background in agriculture and life sciences. What she learned about leadership styles and how to work with people has served her well throughout her career.
Jennifer Strong, Ph.D., associate professor in ALEC, recalled Carter’s ability to apply the leadership concepts she learned in class to the world around her.
“Her holistic approach to learning and leading enhanced class discussions is directly linked to her amazing critical thinking and communication skills,” Strong said. “Students like Mickeala enhance everyone’s learning when they are in the classroom and change the world as soon as their time in Aggieland ends.”
“You never know where life is going to take you,” Carter said. “My advice to students is to be open to changes in your plans. When you relinquish thinking that things must go one specific way, that is when they can turn out to be even greater than you could have imagined.
“As the oldest of four sisters, it is rewarding to know I paved a path and showed them they can achieve even more than I have.”
Find out more about internship opportunities with the Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Internship Program at https://anrp.tamu.edu/.