Alumni Spotlight: Mikaylah Heffernan

March 25, 2024 - Karessa Weir

PLS has thousands of alumni, working across Michigan, the US, and the world, in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to promote change. We will highlight the contributions of some of these PLS Spartan alumni, in our spring newsletter and on our website.

MSU PLS  graduate Mikaylah Heffernan is the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s legislative liaison. Heffernan previously worked as a House Democratic Policy Advisor for the Michigan House of Representatives, focusing on agriculture and natural resources.  

She holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science and a master's degree in Public Policy, both from Michigan State University.

“Mikaylah is not only an accomplished analyst and administrator, she’s a natural connector, and she regularly supports and mentors other PLS and MPP students,” said Program Coordinator Erika Rosebrook.” Though it’s been several years since she was on campus, I still hear about her often from current students - they always have a story about how she’s helped them get settled or navigate a difficult situation or offered good advice. She’s committed to an inclusive, kind, and transparent public sector, and she continually demonstrates that through her words and actions.” 

MSU PLS caught up with Heffernan shortly after she began her new position this spring and asked her to reflect back on her career so far and her time at MSU:

Mikaylah HeffernanQ: What motivated you for a career in public service?


A career in public service just always made sense. My parents raised me to care about others in everything I do.  They, especially my father, taught me respect for our natural world and supported my love for all things outdoors. My career choices have let me serve my community and my environment while paying homage to my roots since day one.  


Q: What aspects of your Political Science and MPP education prepared you best for your work as a legislative liaison?


The research skills that I learned during my PLS days and then improved during my MPP days. If you know how to find quality, unbiased data, you're already two steps ahead of everyone else. You can learn what you need to know to succeed so long as you know where to look or who to ask.  

  Q: What are your fondest memories of your time as an MSU political science student? 


Bonding with other students that were also fascinated by politics and policy. It’s a powerful experience when you find your people for the first time. I went from being a lone political nerd to being surrounded by other political nerds!  


Q: What experiences would you say are important for current students to take advantage of if they want a job in government? 


Any experience that gets you time in the "real world." Internships are fantastic, but you can learn so much from simply taking a day to go down to the Capitol and watching committees or legislative sessions. If you have the opportunity, try to shadow someone for a day or two, even if you're not sure that you'll want to go into that field. Build your soft skills and teach yourself how to talk with and learn from people that aren’t like you.  


Q: What is something that you know now that you wish you knew back in your MSU days?

. Being unapologetically yourself and sticking to your values won’t endear you to everyone—and that’s okay.  You’ll be able to find a solution some other way.


Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges nowadays for someone who wants to work in your field? And what are the biggest benefits? 


The biggest challenge is honestly just being able to combat misinformation and distrust in the government. Most people who work in public service are here to serve the public. We have good data and good research but making sure that information gets out to the community, can be a struggle.

That said, the biggest challenge goes hand in hand with the biggest benefit. Being able to get the right information out to the community and make a difference is incredibly rewarding. You get to see the impact you have on your family, friends, and neighbors in real time.