From a young age, Kristina Butts was involved in the agriculture and cattle industries. Because of that background, Kristina thought she would find a job within production agriculture after she graduated. Like many students, however—because of an opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C.—those plans changed. That opportunity blossomed into years of work in D.C., but more importantly, that opportunity grew into a habit of mentoring.
“When I came to Texas Tech, I didn’t really know what my career was going to be. I just assumed I was going to find a job in the cattle industry,” Butts said while sitting in the office of Texas Tech University System Chancellor Mitchell. “If you would have told me I was going to be living in Washington, D.C., for nearly 15 years working on ag policy, I’m not even sure I could have told you what ag policy was.”
But because of a few good mentors throughout college and early in her career, Butts found her way down a completely different path. Made possible through her studies at Texas Tech and her work in D.C., she began bridging the gap between agricultural producers and the consumers they serve.
“I’m really passionate about the role models I had throughout my career who found ways to encourage me and inspire me,” Butts said.
Because of the mentors who helped her and her experiences in 4-H, FFA and Texas Beef Ambassadors, Butts found a new passion that has helped guide her career—returning the favor by becoming a mentor herself and creating more opportunities for students around her.
While many of her positions throughout her career have dealt with policy, creating opportunities for others has always become a focal point of hers.
It started when she accepted a graduate position in the animal science department back at her alma mater—Texas Tech—immediately following her congressional internship in Washington, D.C.
“I had a couple of job offers in D.C.,” Butts said, “but Texas Tech called and asked if I would be interested in a food safety research project.”
During her graduate research, Butts also worked as a graduate assistant in the Texas Tech President’s Office where she mainly worked to help expand the university’s congressional internship—the very one she had just completed.
“At the time, we only had one floor of what we call the Texas Tech house, so our program could accommodate eight students, and we wanted to grow that,” Butts said, “but we needed to grow the housing. We were able to grow up to 18 students. I worked with several presidents to expand the internship program over that three-semester program.”
Kristina’s accomplishment of expanding the Texas Tech Congressional Internship Program—creating new opportunities—during her time at the president’s office was her first real-world taste of helping others professionally.
After Kristina finished her graduate studies in animal science, she had a five-year stint as a staffer for U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith—the same place she worked during her Texas Tech congressional internship.
“I was very fortunate he was my first boss, to really kind of show me what the statesmanship really is in D.C. and how to work across lines,” Butts said with a smile.
I’m hopeful one day one of the former interns I had will hire me when I’m looking for a job in the future. I always tell them I want them to be better than me.
After learning the ropes of the political culture of Washington, D.C., Butts took a position with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
As the lead for NCBA’s lobby team, Kristina led many high-profile events and meetings on Capitol Hill, but there was more to it than just that for her. She took great passion in reestablishing the organization’s internship program.
“When I was at NCBA, I worked to reestablish their internship program,” Butts said. “My joke was, one day I’m going to leave D.C., and when I leave, I want to make sure there’s a pipeline—some really great future minds in agriculture who understand policy, who want to come to D.C. and want to be that advocate and middle person to help support the industry.”
After eight-and-a-half years working on behalf of the U.S.’s beef producers, Kristina got a call from Texas Tech University asking her to return to the university to help set-up its federal affairs program—keeping her in Washington, D.C.
“The other hook they gave me was to help work on the Texas Tech vet school,” Butts said with a smile as she remembered that moment, “and that was a big passion of mine.”
During her time working on behalf of Texas Tech on Capitol Hill, Delanie Crist—a young woman participating in the university’s congressional internship program—met Kristina.
While in D.C., Crist said Butts was extremely helpful to the Texas Tech congressional interns—both CASNR and the president’s interns.
“The most time we spent with her was when she would bring us lunch,” Crist said. “We would eat in the [House Agriculture Committee] room and go around sharing our experiences and talking with one another.”
That experience, for Crist, allowed Butts to become a mentor for her during her time representing Texas Tech in D.C., motivating Crist to take all the opportunities she could.
“She was invested in us,” Crist said with a nod. “The lunches were something that weren’t an obligation for her, but she did it through her desires to help interns and to influence them in a positive light.”
Crist’s experience is not an outlier—it’s representative of Butts’ influence on students and interns she’s mentored throughout her career.
Even today—as the Chief of Staff for the Texas Tech University System Chancellor—she creates new opportunities to gain real-world experience for student assistants in her office.
“I’m hopeful one day one of the former interns I had will hire me when I’m looking for a job in the future,” Butts said. “I always tell them I want them to be better than me.”
Through all her work with students and interns in the past, one thing is very clear—she is invested in the future.
According to the American Psychological Association, mentors—including those found within an internship—are likely to increase professional identity, involvement in professional organizations and satisfaction with the job. Butts’ investment in the future generations through mentorship and creation of opportunities will leave a lasting impact.
“I just like finding the time to give back and help nurture the next generation, whether that’s here [at Texas Tech] professionally within higher education, politically in D.C., involved in policy or just involved in agriculture,” Butts said. “I’m just trying to get them plugged in.”