My city of McAllen, Texas, is typically a couple plane rides—or a long drive—from the campus of The University of Texas at Austin and the roar of the stadium. But Longhorn spirit is alive and well here. This past spring I helped organize an internship program to bring UT Austin students who grew up in McAllen back home for the summer, and our community of alumni could not have been more excited.
Sponsored by the IC² Institute and the School of Undergraduate Studies, the Home to Texas program is designed to return undergraduates to their hometowns for the summer and help them understand the underlying values of their home communities. With IC²’s research in fostering economic growth outside of our country’s largest urban areas, including rural and isolated regions, it makes sense to examine our Longhorn students’ hometowns across the state of Texas.
I am thrilled that the IC² Institute is including communities like ours in its efforts. McAllen is not rural—our La Plaza Mall is one of the highest-grossing and largest shopping centers in the country—nor can the city be called small, with a metropolitan area of close to a million people, but we are sometimes overlooked here in the southernmost tip of our state. Our community doesn’t want our young people to overlook the possibility of a vibrant career and life in the place they grew up.
Home to Texas students don’t just take on a single role with an employer; they are also required to conduct interviews with community leaders and report back on what they discover. Six UT Austin undergraduates from McAllen participated in Home to Texas this year, and I found a variety of internship placements for them with local businesses—from banking to retail to social services. Despite the diversity of their positions and work-tasks over the summer, mid-way through the summer, I was struck by a common thread in their discussions about their internships: They were surprised about what they were learning about the place that raised them. The hometown that they thought they had known was not the same place they were discovering through the Home to Texas experience and interviews. I loved being able to facilitate this experience for them!
I want our young citizens who experience a great education at my alma mater in Austin to know that there is no shame in coming home for a summer or a lifetime career. To the contrary, the impact they can have on the world can be just as large and possibly more meaningful when they operate from and with their own community. My fellow alumni in McAllen and our local leaders in government feel the same and have expressed sincere enthusiasm and commitment to what we are achieving through Home to Texas. We can’t wait to start Home to Texas in McAllen again next summer!
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