Home to Texas Q&A: Marina Zolezzi, City of Brownsville
Home to Texas Participant: Marina Zolezzi, Employer
Title: Chief of Staff, Office of the City Manager
Hometown Brownsville, Texas
Intern: Mia Li Rodriguez
During the summer of 2022, Zolezzi supervised UT student Mia Li for her Home to Texas internship. At the end of the internship, we spoke with Zolezzi about her experience as an employer 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.
What has Mia Li has brought to her internship with Brownsville’s Office of the City Manager?
She has brought her heart set, her talents, her skills. We work on a lot of the enterprise-wide projects, a lot of events with the community, but most importantly, [we] focus on our people within our organization. We focus on our leadership development trainings, our processes that we have here. She’s brought her passion here. That’s what I really like about this program—it’s Home to Texas. She’s working in her own community.
Is this the first time that the City Manager’s Office has had a Home to Texas intern?
This is not the first time. We were really excited when the process started again for this year, because we’ve had a great experience in the past.
What is specifically exciting about having University of Texas at Austin students as interns?
On the personal level, I’m excited because [it’s my] alma mater, right? Hook ’em, Horns! But also the experience overall that we’ve had with UT students has been great, very professional. [The University of Texas at Austin] is one of our universities within the state that we’ve had good relationships with, and we’d like to continue to support.
What was Mia Li’s experience like, working in the City Manager’s Office?
It was what we call a “baptism by fire.” [Laughs] Our previous City Manager, Mr. Noel Bernal, was offered and accepted a position in Colorado. One of the first things that first week [of Mia Li’s internship] was that announcement. Mia Li became part of something called the Transition Management Team that helped us brainstorm and put together the plan for transitioning with our employees, which included a communications plan and a change management plan. Mia Li had the opportunity to work closely with the city manager and then also our interim city manager and the rest of the CMO team.
That’s just the start! One of the other things—we’re going through the Choice Neighborhood Initiative. This is the second time that the community of Brownsville has been awarded this grant through [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development]. The focus is reaching out to residents in a specific neighborhood area—in this case, it’s our International/Southmost neighborhood. This is where [Mia Li] has gotten to work with our community directly. We’ve had workshops with the youth in the neighborhood and the residents in that particular housing development. She was very instrumental in helping us with those work sessions.
The other assistance she’s provided [is with] book reviews. The leadership team with the City Manager’s Office—we do two books every year. We do a fall book review and a spring-summer book review. [Mia Li read The Innovation Handbook], and every week we had a presentation led by one of our city management teams [where] we got to present the main takeaways. We’re really excited that Mia Li did a presentation with the directors and assistant directors on her main takeaways on one of the chapters.
She also helped research within our Office of Strategic Initiatives—some research on our broadband initiatives, on an assistant city manager and training program, and on grant opportunities. [Mia Li and] another intern have been cataloging all the books that our directors and assistant directors have reviewed.
In addition to that, a lot of participatory leadership. We had a food bank distribution specifically to our employees who are struggling because of inflation and the economy. She was out there with us helping distribute food. Also, she volunteered at the TAAF Track and Field events regional meet, which Brownsville hosted. She is currently helping this week in our public health department because they did reach out for assistance, specifically in the animal shelter. [Mia Li]’s like, “Oh, Ms. Marina, can I help them?” “Of course!”
Through all these experiences, she had face-to-face engagement, communication and speaking opportunities, participatory leadership [experiences], [and used her] research skills.
What is the value of Home to Texas, both for you as an employer and for the students who are a part of this program?
I think the neat thing about it is having that opportunity for a student to be able to come and give back to their community. I know when I was in undergrad, I just went out and asked, “Do you have any internships?” That was a bit challenging. I ended up doing an internship out-of-state and I really wanted to do something here, in my area. To have that opportunity is just wonderful, because you’re giving back directly at the community where you’re coming from.
Then for ourselves [as employers], it’s having that opportunity to continue to make an impact on our future leaders. Because we learn from them as well! And to have that continued relationship-building, so that when [our Home to Texas interns] complete their studies, we’re here with open doors.