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UTRGV students at orientation for The Rio Grande Valley Legislative Internship Program (VLIP) on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018 at the Center for Innovation and Commercialization in Weslaco, Texas. UTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy

Featured: Eleven students from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have been selected to the Rio Grande Valley Legislative Internship Program (VLIP) and will spend this spring interning at the State Capitol during the 86th Texas Legislative Session, which begins on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 and lasts 140 days. Front row, from right, are: Ylana Robles; Stacie Morales; Bertha Lance; Sharo López (Alternate); Jacquelyn Hernández; and Mónica García. Back row, from left: Khalid Aboujamous; Erick Longoria; Jesús Galindo; Javier Bustos; Giovanni Rosas Escobedo; and Eric Vargas.

Photograph by LETTY FERNÁNDEZ

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University of Texas Rio Grande Valley announces 11 Valley legislative internships for 86th Texas Legislature, which convenes January 8, 2019

LETTY FERNÁNDEZ

Eleven University of Texas Rio Grande Valley students are about to embark on an experience that will change their lives, with a spring internship at the State Capital during the 86th Texas Legislature, which convenes (begins) on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 and lasts 140 days.

Each student will work in the Austin Capitol office of a Rio Grande Valley legislator.

This is the third set of students to participate in the Rio Grande Valley Legislative Internship Program (VLIP). In 2015 and 2017, other Valley students attending UTRGV also worked in Austin with the Valley’s state legislative delegation in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.

This third set of students will report to their assigned Capitol office a few days before the upcoming state legislative session begins on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

They will be required to work 40 hours a week and complete assignments in two online political science courses.

The students selected for the internships in 2019 will receive $8,000 each to help cover their living expenses in Austin.

Following are the names of the students selected for the Rio Grande Valley Legislative Internship Program (VLIP), and the legislators to whom they are assigned.

• Khalid Aboujamous – Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo;
• Javier Bustos – Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg;
• Giovanni Rosas Escobedo – Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen;
• Jesús Galindo – Rep. Alex Domínguez, D-Brownsville;
• Mónica García – Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-La Joya;
• Ylana Robles – Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco;
• Jacquelynn Hernandez – Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City;
• Bertha Lance – Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-Brownsville;
• Erick Longoria – Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville;
• Stacie Morales – Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen; and
• Eric Vargas – Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission.

At an orientation was held on Friday, December 14, 2018, Verónica Gonzáles, UTRGV Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations, told the students the internship program was established to create opportunities for students to learn about the legislative process.

You will be working in the offices of our Valley legislators, interacting with people from all over the state. You will be ambassadors for UTRGV, and you will learn firsthand how laws are made. Embrace this experience,” said Gonzáles, a former Valley state representative who served from January 11, 2005 to June 29, 2012.

The students must be currently enrolled at UTRGV, have completed 60 undergraduate hours, including 12 semester credit hours in political science, a 3.0 GPA in political science courses and a 2.5 cumulative GPA. Master’s students must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and enroll in the appropriate course(s) in the academic departments.

In early November 2018, UTRGV officials opened the application process to all students, resulting in the selection of this group of individuals.

“We also could not be more grateful to our legislators and their staff for teaching and mentoring our students and showing them firsthand, how policy is made. It’s an invaluable experience for our students,” said Gonzáles.

The internships are designed to provide students with a greater understanding of the legislative process.

Student interns work full-time helping legislators and staff with everything from conducting research for legislation, monitoring committee hearings, meeting with constituents and much more.

“What a wonderful opportunity for our students to see government in action,” said Richard Sánchez, Associate Vice President for Governmental Relations. “Having worked in the state Capitol, I know our students will leave with valuable experiences that I hope will lead them on a path to public service careers.”

Some of the UTRGV VLIP students going to Austin shared their thoughts about the coming internship and its benefits.

Eric Vargas

Vargas has always been interested in government. At UTRGV, he is pursing two master’s degrees, one in Public Affairs and the other in Creative Writing.

“The procedures and protocols that go into enacting policy has always fascinated me. The VLIP internship is exciting, and I plan to utilize my time to its utmost, learning different policies, procedures and experiencing firsthand government in action,” he said.

Bertha Lance

Lance never considered politics as a career until her fourth semester at UTRGV.

“I realized that politics was, indeed, what I want to do. I am grateful to have been given this opportunity to keep on living my passion and keep my dreams going strong,” she said. “This internship will expand my skills and help me gain new experiences.”

Khalid Aboujamous

Aboujamous, a junior at UTRGV studying Political Science and English, plans to go to law school.

“Politics is a big part of my life. I study it in class, listen to it on the news, read about it online, and even share my opinions with friends and colleagues, but I have never experienced it first-hand. The VLIP internship gives me the chance to do just that. It is a great opportunity for me to learn from our legislators,” Aboujamous said.

Student interns work full-time and must complete assignments in two online political science courses, for which they receive course credit. Students also receive monthly compensation through the VLIP program, thanks to the support and generosity of UTRGV President Dr. Guy Bailey.

11 UTRGV STUDENTS SPENT 85TH TEXAS LEGISLATIVE SESSION IN 2017 AS INTERNS

Working as an intern at the 85th legislative session in 2017 at the Texas State Capitol motivated Alondra Galván, a senior criminal justice major at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, to run for president of UTRGV’s student governing body, the Student Government Association.

The 20-year-old Brownsville native, who won the post while in Austin, said working in the legislative office of then-Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, gave her valuable knowledge and experience to apply to her new SGA job, as well as to her career goals of becoming an attorney, a judge and, one day, Brownsville’s mayor.

“I want to be involved in decisions that affect a lot of people,” said Galván, who got to work at the Capitol on issues involving Texas courts and infrastructure and to meet with constituents.

Oliveira, who is also Galván’s state representative, allowed her to sit in on meetings in which she learned about issues Brownsville faces. She additionally learned about the needs of the university and UT System from Oliveira, a primary author of the legislation that created UTRGV.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to go out of the Valley, learning from different people and cultures, and to experience what the world has to offer but also to go there and represent the Valley and our university,” she said.

About the Legislative Internship Program

Galván was one of 11 students participating in the UTRGV inaugural Legislative Internship Program (VLIP) in the 140-day legislative session, which began Tuesday, January 10, 2017, and ended Monday, May 29, 2017.

The VLIP, an academic program made possible with generous funding from the UTRGV Foundation, provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to serve as interns in the Texas Legislature during regular legislative sessions, which occur every two years.

The undergraduate students are required to be juniors or seniors and are provided an $8,000 stipend while working full time during the session. Applicants must have a minimum of 12 credit hours in political science with a 3.0 GPA in those courses and an overall GPA of 2.5. Upon completion, each intern receives six credit hours. Students from all majors are eligible to apply.

“It is well-documented that internships, clinics and other experiential learning opportunities provide students with invaluable real-world experience and the VLIP has been especially valuable to our students who not only get to see laws being made but get to participate in every aspect, from the moment the ideas for legislation are presented to the time the bill becomes law,” said Verónica Gonzáles, Vice President of the UTRGV Office of Governmental and Community Relations.

“It forces you to grow up”

Ann Jacobo, 22, from Brownsville, has a double major in government and communications. She was more familiar than most interns with the legislative process because she worked in the local district office of Rep. Eddie Lucio III (Dist. 38) in Fall 2015 and Fall 2016.

However, it was the first time Jacobo had ever lived away from home or been to Austin.

“It was hard, but it forces you to grow up, mature, and understand that you won’t always have your parents there to do things for you,” she said.

Jacobo, who at the time was considering a career in international law and planned to run for office in the future, described working on everything from printing out postcards to drafting legislation during the session.

Dedicated to working out, like her boss Lucio, she was additionally assigned to lead the Lucio-initiated Capitol Wellness Club in weekday runs and yoga sessions for other interns, staff and legislators. She took on the role of overseeing the legislator’s social media channels, newsletters and press releases, all subject to staff approval, and served as an assistant clerk for the Rules and Resolutions Committee, which Lucio chairs.

While Jacobo was disappointed in the outcome of a bill she gathered information on – Senate Bill 4, the Sanctuary Cities Bill – she said the opportunity to intern during the session was enlightening and invaluable.

“Being up here, you are in full wake-up mode,” she said. “This is not simple. It is not just a project in class. Everything you do here is affecting your state and your community.”

Leaning and long hours

Intern Carlos Pimentel, 22 and a political science major from Edinburg, is a self-described “politics junkie” who wanted to go beyond the local district office of Rep. Terry Canales (Dist. 40), where he worked in the Fall 2016 semester.

“To see Rep. Canales in action really interested me, and I wanted to know more about the legislative process,” Pimentel said. “His mentorship has boosted my aspirations to be an attorney and assured me that this is the route I want to take.”

Pimentel said that while researching bills and performing the many other duties required for Canales’ two committees, he became familiar with many Texas statutes and the long hours a 140-day legislative session requires.

“You really have to put yourself out there to get stuff done. We filed over 60 bills,” he said. “It really opened the eyes of other people at the Capitol that we are really trying to make Texas and our district better and doing what we can to help our constituents.”

Pimentel said he is thankful for the Foundation’s support to provide a stipend.

“Having the stipend really helped many of us. Austin expenses can be pretty high compared to the Valley,” he said. “Being able to have interns represent the Valley and knowing what we are capable of was a great eye opener to a lot of people. RGV is a great place, and sometimes people have a very stereotypical view of the border region. I hope this program expands next year and keeps moving forward.”

The other students who served as interns during the 85th regular session included:

• Kassandra Alemán (Sen. Hinojosa);
• Victoria García (Sen. Lucio Jr.);
• Jorge Garza (Rep. Guillén);
• Julio Garza (Sen. Zaffirini);
• Melissa Garza (Rep. Muñoz Jr.);
• Ilse Irena (Rep. Martínez);
• Arturo Limones (Rep. Longoria); and
• Sarahí Martínez (Rep. Guerra).

Wide-ranging benefits

The student’s academic adviser, Dr. Ruth Ann Ragland, Senior Lecturer in the UTRGV Department of Political Science, oversaw the weekly logs, book reviews and final reports, all VLIP participation requirements.

“The VLIP interns have had a marvelous opportunity to connect their classroom knowledge to real-world experience in legislative process in their state Capitol. These internships provide mentoring from elected officials and seasoned professional staff, opening pathways for future careers and public service,” Ragland said. “Internships truly are life-changing, and it’s wonderful that our students have had this enriching experience.”

At the end of the session, the VLIP interns were honored with resolutions from both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate.

Sánchez, UTRGV Associate Vice President for Governmental Relations, describes the VLIP as a wonderful benefit for UTRGV students, as well as for the university’s legislative partners who have benefitted from having high caliber full-time staff members throughout the session.

“Participating in the legislative process from within a state Capitol office is something that few people have the opportunity to accomplish,” he said. “As for the success of the program, I think it is best measured by the satisfaction of the host offices and the testimonials of the students. In both cases, the program has made very high marks.”

FIRST-EVER VALLEY LEGISLATIVE INTERNSHIP PROGRAM SET IN MOTION BY REP. CANALES IN 2014

The groundbreaking legislative internship program for qualified UTRGV students of the Texas Capitol was helped set up several years ago by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

The first group featured five students assigned to five Hidalgo County lawmakers, including Canales, with the promise to create a new generation of powerful political leaders who were able to champion many of the dreams of deep South Texas.

In that first year (2015), the internships were sponsored by the University of Texas-Pan American Foundation (now the UTRGV Foundation), whose 23-member Board of Trustees was composed of leaders from business, the professions and civic affairs who are dedicated advocates of the university and thoughtful stewards of the Foundation’s assets.

The Office for Government and Community Relations for The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley oversaw the internship program, and helped to create it with Canales.

The first group of interns, their hometowns, and the offices in which they worked during the 84th regular session of the Texas Legislature in 2015 were:

• Carlos Aguayo of McAllen (Rep. Longoria);
• Jacqueline Sandoval of Harlingen (Rep. Martínez);
• Lesley Andrea Marín of Weslaco (Rep. Canales);
• Johnathan Simcha Weisfeld-Hinojosa of McAllen (Rep.” Guerra); and
• Shawna Miller of Kimberly (Rep. Muñoz, Jr).

“The Texas Legislature, which meets every two years, approves hundreds of state laws and policies that affect almost every portion of our lives, from deciding how much of the estimated $200+ billion state budget over the next two years will be invested in the Valley, to acting on the other great issues of the day in Texas, from education reform proposals to anti-tax measures, and dozens more major legislative priorities,” said Canales.

Rep. Canales: Opening the doors to corridors of power and knowledge

Canales, influenced by his experiences in the Legislature, wanted more Valley residents to have the opportunity to develop the firsthand expertise needed to excel in the state legislative process. Opening the doors to the corridors of power and knowledge, as is currently being done by other major universities in Texas, is part of his vision.

“For example, the Texas Legislative Internship Program, created in 1990 by Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), has provided more than 500 undergraduate and graduate students, through Texas Southern University (TSU) in Houston, the knowledge, skills, and real-world experiences of working in the Texas Legislature,” the House District 40 legislator noted. “These are literally life-changing internships that more quickly lead to positions of leadership and influence at the highest levels of government and business in Texas. I want these golden opportunities for the students of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.”

Under legislation co-sponsored by Canales in 2013, UT-Pan American, UT-Brownsville, and the three UT Regional Academic Health Centers (RAHCs) in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville, were merged into one regional institution of higher education, now known as The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).

UTRGV, which also now includes a full-fledged School of Medicine – was created by the Texas Legislature under Senate Bill 24, whose main author was Hinojosa, and whose principal sponsor was Oliveira.

SB 24 was signed into law following the 2013 regular session of the Texas Legislature.

So, with the help of Curtis Smith, his legislative chief-of-staff in Austin, Canales reached out in the summer of 2014 to Dr. Guy Bailey, the then-incoming UTRGV president, along with Gonzáles, to see what could be done to help open the corridors of power in Austin to some of the best and brightest minds in South Texas.

Gonzáles and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, the Ad Interim President for UT-Pan American, met for a key session organized by the state lawmaker on Thursday, August 14, 2014 at Canales’ district office in Edinburg, with Smith and Alex Ríos, the District Office Director, participating in the organizational meeting.

Leonard Spearman, Director of Government Relations at Texas Southern University, flew in from Houston to share ideas on how UTRGV could create as successful a legislative internship program as the one administered by TSU.

UTRGV president familiar with concept, need for legislative interns

“Of course, Mr. Spearman’s experiences, advice and wisdom were very valuable to all of us, from how to secure financial support to developing the program so the students would receive class credit for participating in the Valley legislative internship,” said Canales. “I also was most pleased that President Bailey is very familiar with and supportive of the concept, since Texas Tech University, where he was president from 2008 to 2012, has its own very successful effort.”

While at Texas Tech University, Bailey directly witnessed the success of that school’s internships at various levels of government. Texas Tech University owns a building near the nation’s Capitol in Washington, D.C. where the university houses dozens of interns year-round for internships at federal institutions, including Congress.

“Internships are of great benefit to our students because they allow them to gain real-life exposure to a professional working environment and mentorship experience,” Bailey said. “The fast pace and dynamic legislative session offers a unique experience to our students to see how government works, how it impacts the daily lives of Texans and how policy is formulated in our state, from concept to actual implementation.”

Bailey foresaw “that in the next several years, we will have students from UTRGV working in local, state and federal government offices. This is a prime example of how UTRGV plans to offer greater opportunities to our talented students. We thank Representative Canales and all the other Valley legislators for participating in this internship program and the UTPA Foundation for its financial support of this program.”

UTPA Foundation played vital roles with financial, leadership support

Gonzáles said the 2015 legislative internship program reflected the vision of the UTPA Foundation and its Board of Trustees.

“It is fitting that in our final year as UT-Pan American – before we are renamed and become part of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley – that this great American institution of higher education, with the invaluable help of the UTPA Foundation, launches an effort that truly will provide the mantle of leadership for our students at the highest levels of state government and public service,” she said in 2014.

According to their website, “with the help of the trustees, individually and collectively, the UTPA Foundation has made great strides since its creation in 1982 in raising, managing and investing funds to help build first-class academic, research and public service programs that benefit the region, state and nation. Through their dedicated work over the years, the UTPA Foundation Board has raised more than $35 million in endowment funds to support student scholarships, faculty research and development, academic initiatives and student support programs, and to provide flexible funding to meet other university needs.”

Canales shared the enthusiasm and importance of providing more UTRGV students with an education and experiences which best come from being on the proverbial and figurative inside of the Texas Capitol.

“It’s real simple,” Canales said of his hopes for the UTRGV legislative internship program. “If we in the Valley are going to continue building on our influence in the Texas Legislature, we must bring more South Texans into this powerful arena, let them see in person how it really works, and help them take their rightful place as the future leaders of our great state.”

Best of all, he believes, shaping the future legislative and political trailblazers for the Valley represents the highest ideals of education.

“In one of his final prepared speeches, President Kennedy spoke eloquently and wisely about the need for Americans to assume the awesome responsibility of governing,” Canales reflected. “President Kennedy said, ‘Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.’ Leadership and learning are what this legislative internship program is all about.”

The Board of Trustees for the UTPA Foundation in 2014 were:

• Chairman of the Board Jaime Ramón, Partner, Cox Smith, Dallas, Texas;
• Vice Chair of the Board Víctor M. González, M.D., Ophthalmologist, Valley Retina Institute, McAllen, Texas;
• Treasurer Armando A. Pérez, Senior Vice President, Houston Division, H-E-B, Spring, Texas
• Secretary A.R. (Felo) Guerra, Rancher and General Manager, Guerra Brothers Successors, Linn, Texas;
• Arcilia C. Acosta, Chief Executive Officer, CARCON Industries and STL Engineers, Dallas, Texas;
• Armando Arismendi, Director, Special Government Projects, Research, IBM Corporation, Armonk, New York;
• Theresa Barrera-Shaw, Retired, Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Arkansas;
• Rudy Beserra, Vice President of Latin Affairs, The Coca-Cola Company, Atlanta, Georgia;
• Alonzo Cantú, President and Chief Executive Officer, Cantú Construction and Development Company, McAllen, Texas;
• Bill Ellis, Jr., Attorney and Partner, Ellis, Koeneke and Ramírez, McAllen, Texas;
• Marilyn Fox Box, President, IWB, McAllen, Texas;
• Lisa Brady Gill, Executive Director, Education Policy and Practice, Texas Instruments, Dallas, Texas;
• Yno Gonzáles, Senior Vice President, Network Services, Healy and Company, San Ramón, California;
• R. David Guerra, President and CEO, IBC Bank, McAllen, Texas;
• Sally Fraustro Guerra, President, Alumni Association, McAllen, Texas;
• Roel (Roy) Martínez, President, 2M Ranch, Mission, Texas;
• Doug Matney, Group Vice President, South Texas Health System, Edinburg, Texas;
• Edward Muñoz, Principal, Muñoz Group Investment Banking, Leesburg, Virginia;
• David Norman, Senior Vice President of Operations, Texas Division, Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Arkansas;
• H.R. Bert Peña, Troutman Sanders LLP, Washington, District of Columbia;
• Joe Ramírez, Principal, J.R. Enterprises, Summit, New Jersey;
• Ed Rivera, Director, Sales and Marketing, Nypro Kanaak, Laguna Vista, Texas;
• John Schrock, Sr., Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Lifetime Industries, McAllen, Texas; and
• Tom Torkelson, Chief Executive Officer and Head of Schools, IDEA Public Schools, Weslaco, Texas.

About UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

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Gail Fagan and David A. Díaz contributed to this article. For more this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com)

 

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