During the spring 2022 semester, UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences student Austin Burton completed a legislative internship with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) as a legislative affairs intern through the Tallahassee Internship Program hosted by the UF Bob Graham Center. Austin is a junior studying environmental science through UF/IFAS CALS in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.
Through the generous Carl Loop Legislative Internship Scholarship award, which is part of the VP Promise initiative, Austin was financially able to complete his experience in Tallahassee. The VP Promise initiative provides financial assistance to students who are enriching their education through experiences beyond the classroom, such as internships, studies abroad, research presentations, and more.
While working for FDACS, Austin gained valuable experience in agricultural policy and state government. Some of his responsibilities included discussing legislation with state legislators, tracking over 400 different bills through committees, and creating reports for leadership within the department. Through these tasks, Austin gained a holistic understanding of collaborating with people of diverse backgrounds, effectively communicating time sensitive material, and organizing information for a team. These valuable skills will benefit Austin as he continues to develop applicable skills for the global workforce.
Of his experience, Austin shares, “I loved having the freedom to make this experience my own through the guidance and leadership of the wonderful team here at FDACS. I thoroughly enjoyed the new challenges and opportunities to collaborate with others that were presented each day. My favorite duties were those where I interacted with individuals on both sides of the aisle to create solutions for our current problems.”
Originally from Akron, Ohio, Austin’s experience in Tallahassee not only presented the opportunity to explore the world of politics, but also the unique issues that Floridians across the state experience.
“When I first moved to Florida, I lived in Canal Point for a year, which is right on Lake Okeechobee within the Pahokee/Belle Glade areas. My front yard was a seemingly infinite sugarcane field with agribusiness representing a huge part of the identity of the region. It was a big culture shock, yet living there provided a spark of interest in environmental and agricultural issues here in Florida. Through my work with FDACS, I was able to share my experience living in the region with department leadership on how to approach issues that aligned with the goals of the department.”
One of Austin’s most memorable experiences was meeting with UF/IFAS workers that administer Florida’s 4-H programs on how to engage the next generation of environmental and agricultural stewards. “We all have a hand in the future of farming and the health of our shared environment, but particularly younger generations have the opportunity to improve on our progress not just for Florida, but for the entire world. It is vital that we invest in our youth and promote opportunities to get their hands in the dirt, figuratively and literally!”
Austin plans to continue working with youth on expanding access to environmental and agricultural programs. As a rising senior, Austin is a liaison for the School of Natural Resources and Environment and a Reitz Scholar. “Being here at UF is a dream come true, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities my education with CALS has presented me, and I’m excited to see what else we can accomplish in the future.”