Home to Texas Q&A: Gabriel Banda, Class of 2025

Gabriel Banda photo - Class of 2025

Home to Texas Participant: Gabriel Banda

Major: Electrical and Computer Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering
Hometown: Brownsville, Texas
Internship: Brownsville Public Utilities Board

During the summer of 2022, UT student, Gabriel Banda, participated in the Home to Texas program. At the end of the internship, we spoke with Banda about his experience as an intern in the Home to Texas program.

Home to Texas, which is run by Texas Career Engagement in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin’s IC² Institute and the School of Undergraduate Studies, pairs first-year undergraduate Longhorns of all majors with well-paid summer internships and research experiences in their hometowns across the state.

How did you find out about Home to Texas and what excited you about it?

I was introduced to Home to Texas by a friend who participated in the program a year before. He told me about it and I just thought this was so awesome—how you could get an internship within your own hometown during the summer, especially after your first year! It’s an opportunity I didn’t want to miss out on.

One of the biggest things that inclined me to come back to Brownsville was having this opportunity at Brownsville Public Utilities Board (PUB)—because growing up, there were never really engineering firms in sight. Most of my STEM experiences came later on throughout my life. I really wanted to be part of Brownsville and it’s just really nice to be here during the summer with your family. Internships are really competitive right now, especially for first-year students, so having this opportunity is just a huge blessing.

What have been some of the highlights of your internship experience?

Every day is a little bit different. There are some days where I’m providing cabling and hardware support when we’re installing new computing equipment. There’s other days where I’m helping out our cybersecurity analyst with things like physical security testing. Right now, I’m actually familiarizing myself with a software called Qualys. It’s a vulnerability management tool that tells you what in your network is most susceptible to risk. That’s one thing that I’ve learned here—how important it is to document every single asset you have on your network, because anything you don’t document is essentially susceptible to risk. Throughout this process, you have to make sure that things are being federally regulated, that you’re following the federal rules.

The funny thing is that on my first day of orientation, I saw some people I knew from high school because there were other interns from the local university, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), and one of my friends from Texas A&M. I definitely made friends with a lot of the other interns. For example, one of them is a president of an organization here at UTRGV called the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)—each school has its own IEEE chapter, UT Austin included—and he knew a teacher at a high school who was working on a solar car project and he invited me to come over and help him out. The friends that I’ve made here and getting these different experiences—by networking and working on the solar car—it’s honestly been one of the highlights of my summer and one of the coolest opportunities I’ve had through this program. Just something unexpected.

How has your classroom work informed your internship experience?

Last semester, I took a course called Intro to Computing EE306 with Dr. Telang, and we learned things about computer architecture—basically, the nuances of a computer and breaking it down from the bottom all the way to the top. Each time, we would raise the level of abstraction. And I’ve seen that here at Brownsville PUB—here, these systems are super complex, but when you look at the heart of it, it all goes back down to the building blocks and logic gates and things like that.

In class, I feel like what I was introduced to my first year was a lot of theory and problem-solving. That’s a good thing—I think you need to learn how to problem-solve in the classroom—but having this hands-on experience is something that I don’t think I would’ve been introduced to [in a classroom setting]. Here, you’re being introduced to things like, “Okay, you need to follow these federal procedures”, things that are very serious.

What have you learned on the job?

Throughout this experience, I’ve become familiarized with various aspects of the cybersecurity industry and a lot of the terminology used. When I first entered, that was something completely new to me. They were using all these fancy acronyms and I had to learn that throughout the trainings. I’ve also learned about how important it is to protect every single asset on your network, because what you don’t protect is basically susceptible to risk.

Before I started this internship, I actually spoke with my manager because I wanted to know what to expect. I’m part of the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Electrical Services Department. To put it simply, SCADA is a collection of both hardware and software components that allow remote control access for things like power plants and substations. I was told what SCADA was going to be like, but I wasn’t too sure of what exactly I was going to do. Since I started the internship, [the work has] been a matter of what problem comes up throughout the day. I go up to my manager and I’m like, “Hey, what can I do?”

The biggest takeaway I have from working at Brownsville PUB is learning how to make opportunities for yourself, because at the end of the day, they aren’t handed to you. You are the one that needs to put in the effort to make things work. This is my first job and I’m pretty proud of that. Going back to UT, I would really like to continue being a leader and representing Brownsville.

What inspires you about Brownsville?

Brownsville has this very unique aspect to it which is called cariño in Spanish. I like to think that there’s no direct English translation for it because it’s such a unique form of affection, and even though I’m working in a technical environment like this, I can still see it and how it’s prevalent. For example, lots of my co-workers—we just have this natural, tight-knit work environment, and it’s just the way a lot of people in Brownsville are, just super friendly and welcoming. You really feel like family when you’re here. I think it also goes back into the Hispanic culture within Brownsville.

Living here, I’m surrounded by my family. I have tias, uncles, my parents, of course, my grandparents—everyone has been born and raised in Brownsville. And I think that united culture is really what inspires me at the end of the day—making your family proud because they didn’t have opportunities like this when they were younger. I’m the first generation to put my foot in the door and explore different opportunities. Living in Austin, for example—that was a huge one. I think at the end of the day, what inspires me the most is my family.

Anything you want to say to students who are considering applying to Home to Texas?

I would 100 percent recommend this program. I think it’s just so important for you to start building these professional development opportunities, especially early throughout your undergraduate career. The Home to Texas program is perfect for that.