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Community Perspective: Brownsville UT interns come 'Home to Texas' – Brownsville Herald

This summer’s seven Home to Texas Brownsville interns and their employers praised their experiences during a recent reception at Main Event Brownsville at Sunrise Mall.
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.
Among this year’s interns, Mia Li Rodriguez worked in the city manager’s office. She said attending city commission meetings with members of city staff gave her insight into how the office works. She also attended morning department leadership meetings, which she said added to her understanding of Brownsville’s city government.
Li Rodriguez said she especially enjoyed working on the International Southmost Choice project, which involved going out into the community and doing interviews and an event at the Southmost branch library
“I was going to come home anyway. Mom said first summer after college, you’re coming home. This had the additional blessing of getting to work while being in my hometown,” she said.
Rivera Early College High School graduate Ethan Lopez interned at Space Ventures, a Brownsville-based online investment platform that provides early-stage capital to space startups. In that realm smaller companies have had a tendency to get overshadowed by larger ones, he said.
“What Space Ventures tries to do is make it so consumers, the public, can invest in the smaller companies so the smaller companies have the money to put toward their products,” Lopez said.
“It’s a very cool thing. Some of the companies that are using the platform have very awesome products, very awesome visions. As consumer, I was interested in space before I went to work for the company. After, I’m like, wow, there’s so much going on, this is such an interesting field. Personally I might pursue this field later on in my career. … It’s fun to invest in a company that’s going to be part of the space industry.”
Lopez, a computer science major, said he was able to contribute to Space Ventures’ space industry data base, from products to companies to mission.
“My coworker asked if I knew how to code. He said he had found data on 200 companies. It took him two hours. I wrote a script to automate the process and I got data from 2,000 companies and downloaded it in the span of like 30 minutes. They were really appreciative of that and afterwards … we kind of developed a partnership. It’s not like I automated his job for him, it’s more like it became our project to potentially automate other tasks for them,” Lopez said.
Emily Spandikow, director of project management for the IC2 Institute, said she and the students found out that Brownsville residents love to talk about Brownsville.
“These students, all seven of them, were asked to interview six community members and we were able to compile a beautiful portrait about what the citizens of Brownsville say about Brownsville. … It’s great for the students to get to connect with the community members that they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to speak to and to start to think about what it means to be a member of the community,” Spandikow said.
Gabriel Banda, an electrical and computer engineering major, interned at the Brownsville Public Utilities Board. He said he learned a lot about cyber security as a member of the STATA team, which stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition.
This department has a collection of computer software and hardware components and is able to get remote access to substations around city, which get super high voltages and split them up into lower voltages so that businesses and homes get a decent amount of electricity, he said.
The Home to Texas program is managed in partnership by the IC2 Institute, School of Undergraduate Studies and Texas Career Engagement. For questions about Home to Texas, please contact Program Manager Dustin Harris at [email protected].