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Brownsville Herald features UT Home to Texas Students

Home to Texas Brownsville interns Kenia Mendiola, Michelle Covarrubias, Meron Teferi, Anakin Martinez and Mariana Mijangos are pictured Tuesday in downtown Brownsville. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

This summer’s five Home to Texas Brownsville interns and their employers praised their experiences at a reception Tuesday at Terras Urban Mexican Kitchen in downtown Brownsville.

Home to Texas is a summer internship and workforce development program at the University of Texas at Austin that aims to spur economic development in communities outside major urban areas. The IC² Institute at UT matches first-year undergraduate students from all majors with employers in their hometowns who are seeking students with fresh and informed perspectives.

The students are paid $5,000 for a nine-week internship and complete a summer research course at the IC² Institute that explores some of their city’s inner workings. Fundraising and sponsorships support the progrm.

Kenia Mendiola interned at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport, where she found out there’s much more to airport operations than purchasing a ticket and getting on a plane.

“It has been eye-opening to see how the airport is run and how the airport and the city work together,” she said.

One of three research projects she completed involved attending a Zoom seminar alongside an airport employee on how to identify human trafficking, including how to spot a person being trafficked.

An anthropology major, Mendiola said she regarded the program as a “great opportunity to be home and learning during the summer. She worked in the administration, operations and maintennce departments.

Michelle Covarrubias, a public health major who plans to eventually become a dentist, said her experience interning at the Brownsville Public Utilities Board, changed her perspective on Brownsville as place to work. She said she now plans to come home to Brownsville to practice once she completes her education.

“Before the Home to Texas internship, well, I was discouraged from coming back, as I believed that this was a city that had no plans of innovation or new developments. Yet, after the internship, it’s like I got this well needed epiphany that Brownsville and it’s workforce is working towards innovating the city and focusing on youth growth to fill Brownsville’s underrated potential,” she said in an email to The Herald.  

University of Texas at Austin Senior Program Coordinator Dustin Harris talks with Home to Texas interns Meron Teferi and Kenia Mendiola Tuesday about their experiences in the program during a reception at Terras Urban Mexican Kitchen.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
University of Texas at Austin representatives, city officials, Home to Texas interns and guests mingle Tuesday at a reception for the Home to Texas Brownsville interns at Terras Mexican Urban Kitchen. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)
Home to Texas intern Michelle Covarrubias gives a short speech about her experiences interning with Brownsville Public Utilities Board Tuesday after accepting her certificate of completion from IC² Institute at UT executive director Art Markman during the reception at Terras Mexican Urban Kitchen. (Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

Joe Paredes, BPUB talent manager, said Covarrubias worked in almost every facet of the public utility’s human resources operation.

“We ended up saying we’ll pay her to stay and we asked her to stay as long as she could before she goes back to school and she accepted,” he said.

In a reference to hiring non-Brownsville residents Paredes added, “you already have phenomenal people growing up here.”

Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez, a UT Austin graduate, praised the Home to Texas program.

“We’re trying to create that destination city that makes people want to come back,” he said. “For me, these are the most exciting times in Brownsville, Texas, in a long time.”

Meron Teferi, a public health major, got to work in the Brownsville Public Health Department. She said she had “an incredible experience immersing myself in all the things going on in the City of Brownsville.”

Aniken Martinez interned with Spaced Ventures, an investment platform that facilitates public investments in private space companies and is part of the new space economy emerging in Brownsville and sparked by SpaceX.

He said the company is a small startup and it was his first job ever.

Mariana Mijangos interned with the Brownsville Community Development Corp.

Home to Texas Program

glong@brownsvilleherald.com