Paving a Path for Policy
A selfie in front of the White House during her internship with the IL Corn Growers Association solidified a career path in Kylie Bohman’s mind.
Bohman’s trip with the organization in 2017 was an early step towards her current role as a legislative aide covering agriculture and energy for Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO). Bohman is one of numerous young adults impacted by the commodity group’s youth and internship programs.
“I thought, give me a job where I can take a walk and see the White House,” she said. “Now, I could do that every day if I wanted to.”
Originally a political science major at the University of Illinois, agriculture was not a piece of Bohman’s background. However, friends within the University’s College of ACES led her to change her major and connected her with IL Corn. “With IL Corn, I felt like the agriculture industry gave me a really good direction, and specialty knowledge that I was able to see in general politics,” Bohman said. “I enjoyed getting practical knowledge on how the world works.”
In addition to internships, IL Corn invests in the industry’s youth by sponsoring a trip for Illinois FFA State officers and section presidents to attend the National Corn Growers Association’s Corn Congress. This July, Illinois’s five state FFA major officers and 25 section presidents were given a voice alongside ICGA to discuss federal legislation impacting Illinois farmers.
A participant in IL Corn’s 2018 and 2019 summer fly-ins, Brodee McCormick felt confident in himself and his path in Washington D.C. on the first day of his internship this summer.
Although his beginning and end point on the city’s metro were different, his experience visiting D.C. as an FFA officer gave him the background he needed to navigate his role as the policy intern for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council. “Those trips gave a sense of inspiration, like I could do this,” McCormick said. “It gave me the realization I could have a small part or big part in that too.”
Also, an FFA officer on the organization’s 2018 and 2019 trips, Emma Freebairn spent her summer as an intern for the U.S Grains Council. Freebairn first encountered the organization on her trip to D.C. five years ago. She said her prior experiences in D.C. with Illinois FFA laid a solid foundation for her role.
“It definitely just gave me somewhere to start,” she said. “It was always easy for me to start a conversation because I could share, I had been here before. I’d even been to the U.S. Grains Council before.” Her role in the industry relations and ethanol departments allowed her to directly impact the corn industry. Freebairn helped plan the Global Ethanol Submit, a conference that showcases ethanol’s sustainable role to an international audience.
Freebairn, like McCormick and Bohman, said her internship didn’t feel like a possibility when she was first introduced to the U.S. Capitol.
“Up until going on that trip with IL Corn. I really hadn't even thought about traveling out to DC and living there for a summer,” she said. “After going on that trip twice, I thought ‘You know, I was interested in the city.’”
All three IL Corn connections met with the 2023-24 FFA officers in D.C. this July. They shared their experiences and paths in agricultural policy.
“It really just felt like a full circle moment,” Freebairn said. “It put things into perspective for me and reminded me that was where I started out.” McCormick said he advised younger students to take a step of faith and try out a new opportunity. “I thought, ‘I’m just a kid from Illinois.’ But I took a chance, and somebody took a chance on me and here we are.”
IL Corn Managing Director Jim Tarmann said the FFA program and internships were created to pave a way for the next generation in agricultural policy. Tarmann played a large role in the creation of IL Corn’s program with Illinois FFA. He said the program was created to expose participants to the political process, no matter what their career path looks like in the future.
“More and more legislative offices are employing individuals who have not been exposed to agriculture. This creates a steep learning curve and can be a challenge for our industry.” Tarmann said. “We wanted to help students interested in politics understand the pathway that could lead them to an internship or future employment in DC.”
“I think agriculture does a great job of teaching young people and mentoring,” Bohman said. “The people who mentored me at IL Corn believed in me and were trying to teach me so I could do something, like what I am doing now in the future. It enabled me, for sure.”
Want to read more about FFA’s trip to Washington D.C. this year? Read more here!