Published on Oct. 30, 2017
Updated on Nov. 7, 2017
MU alumni Kyler Cliffman and Hannah Cleeton are both field representatives in Columbia for members of the United States Congress. How did they get there? For both of them, it started with the Civic Leaders Internship Program (CLIP) and the MU Office of Service-Learning.
“There would be no chance that I would be where I am without the CLIP program,” Cliffman says. “The people that you meet and the experiences that you have, you really can’t beat it.”
CLIP supports undergraduate students who serve internships in publicly funded offices at the state and national levels. The Congressional Internship Program launched in 2015, with students working with Missouri’s delegation in Washington, D.C.
A passion for politics
Born and raised in Nevada, Missouri, Cliffman broke the chain of five generations of farmers when he joined the CLIP program and ultimately started working for Rep. Vicky Hartzler. Although agriculture is important to him, politics has been Cliffman’s passion since high school.
“In my junior year I got to go to (Washington) D.C. for a national defense conference for high schoolers,” Cliffman says, “and after that it all kind of took off.”
Since then, he knew where he wanted to end up. Before attending the University of Missouri, Cliffman went to a community college near his hometown, but knew MU was where his career in politics would reach new heights. More so, he knew Mizzou was the flagship school of the state with a lot of networking opportunities available to him.
“With only being 20 minutes away from Jefferson City, I thought it could give me the opportunity to intern there, work on a campaign and take me to D.C.,” Cliffman says.
After transferring to MU and connecting with the Office of Service-Learning’s CLIP program, Cliffman interned at the Missouri State Capitol with former State Senator David Pearce. From there, his career climbed rapidly.
“This (internship with Sen. Pearce) furthered my interest in politics and got my foot in the door,” Cliffman says. “Working with Sen. Pearce and his staff, seeing all the great things he got to do and great people he got to meet was awesome.”
After working full-time in the state capitol in the spring of 2016, Cliffman moved on to campaign work, serving as a field representative in the 2016 for Josh Hawley, who was running for Missouri Attorney General.
“When I came to Mizzou, my goal was to hit all three (of the political areas)—state government, campaigns and the federal government,” Cliffman says.
Cliffman reached his goal after applying for CLIP’s Congressional Scholars program and working for Rep. Hartzler.
“I met a lot of great people, whether it was my 12 roommates or (Hartzler’s) staff; it was refreshing,” he says.
To Cliffman’s surprise, Rep. Hartzler was hiring a new field representative. Without hesitation, Cliffman applied and is now in charge of six different counties in mid-Missouri for the representative.
“This experience has blown me away,” Cliffman says. “Not everyone can say that they wake up and fly around in a medical helicopter with a congresswoman for their job.”
Biologist turned political supporter
Cleeton, a New Franklin, Missouri, native, became interested in politics as a young child in 2000, but did not know how to get involved.
“I remember watching the Bush and Gore returns come in and thinking that was really cool,” Cleeton says. “I was coloring in all of the states red and blue as they were reported and I just thought it was amazing.”
When she began at Mizzou, she studied something that she was interested in and good at— biology and Spanish. However, an interest in learning about government remained.
“In high school, my political science teacher always told me it was very important to be an informed voter,” Cleeton says. “I took that very seriously, so I ended up taking several political science courses (at MU) and getting a minor in it.”
Cleeton’s roommate directed her to the CLIP’s Congressional Scholars program. She applied for the program and earned acceptance.
During her time in D.C., she worked in Sen. Roy Blunt’s office and learned a lot about policy.
“I had a phenomenal experience and I really didn’t want to come home,” Cleeton says. “I tried to finish my degree out there (in Washington D.C.), but it didn’t work out.”
Cleeton returned to Mizzou and completed her degree in biology and Spanish. Two weeks before graduation in May 2016, Cleeton received a call from Sen. Blunt’s office in D.C. about a job opportunity. The day of her graduation, she got another call from the office, offering her the job.
“The day I walked across the stage, they offered me the job,” Cleeton says. “Two weeks later, I was living and working in D.C.”
As much as Cleeton loved the nation’s capital, she wanted to focus on state and local politics. A few months after starting work in D.C., she was offered a position to work as a field representative in the Columbia office.
Last May, the new field representative for Sen. Roy Blunt took on her different role.
“It’s totally different than the D.C. world,” Cleeton says. “I have to know more about policy because I need to know what the senator is working on, what’s going on in Jefferson City and what people want on the local level.”
During her time at Mizzou, Cleeton has learned more than she ever expected. The CLIP program provided these great experiences.
“The connections and ability to get out there wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the CLIP program,” Cleeton says. “It was a great learning experience.”