Home to Texas Q&A: Mia Li Rodriguez, Class of 2025

Mia Li Rodriguez photo - Class of 2025

Home to Texas Participant: Mia Li Rodriguez

Majors: Plan II Honors, College of Liberal Arts and Music, College of Fine Arts
Hometown: Brownsville, Texas
Internship: Brownsville City Manager’s Office

During the summer of 2022, UT student, Mia Li Rodriguez, participated in the Home to Texas program. At the end of the internship, we spoke with Ms.Rodriguez about her 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.

What was appealing about coming home for an internship?

To be quite honest, my mom told me that I didn’t have a choice because it was my first summer after college and she said, ”Mia, I’m going to miss you too much, you’re coming home.” [Laughs] So I knew I was coming home to Brownsville. But I had no idea what I was going to do. I got this email through UT along the lines of, “You want to have an internship at your hometown?” I looked into it and I was like, “Whoa, this is a really cool program.” Students go to their hometowns to start building those professional networks. Then there’s also like a research part of it—you do community interviews. You get to see your community from a different perspective. That was really exciting to me.

What have been the highlights of this summer?

I really enjoyed the community events that I got to participate in. Working within the city manager’s office, there’s the grants and community development team. One grant that I got to work on was called the International Southmost Choice Neighborhood Grant. Southmost is a moderate-to-low-income community in our city. The grant itself is like a three-year process and it’s really just planning—it’s not that much acting. But it’s hearing from the people within the community and asking them, “How would you re-imagine your community? What would you need for this community to thrive, to grow?” I really liked that they got to have so much input, and that [the Grants Team] are spending three years just hearing [the community members’] perspective and then, based on that, starting to take action—instead of just coming in and be like, “We’re going to give you a park” and the neighborhood being like, “We don’t need a park. We need something else, we need better bus transportation.” I got to be in those meetings and got to talk to people and that was really cool.

There were a couple of other events. I helped at a regional track and field event. It was totally crazy, just really hectic—tons of kids, kids as young as six—[and I was] corralling them. I really enjoyed that. Like, what a neat way to see my city, what a neat way to get to do these things that I maybe didn’t do in high school!

The city staff are incredible. I met so many people who I could just tell genuinely cared about Brownsville and were in it because they had a very servant leadership mindset. Getting to see that and work with them was really cool.

Did you have an interest in city government before doing this or was this a totally new thing?

[Laughs] I’m embarrassed to say I really didn’t know we had a city manager. It really wasn’t in my mind as a thing that existed. That was really interesting, to think about all these people who do so much for my city that I really never thought about.

In what ways did this internship and your work change your view of Brownsville and your community?

I definitely think that Brownsville is growing a lot more than I knew. Working from the city manager’s office, on one hand, I hear everything, I’m like, “Wow, so much is happening.” But I did community interviews as well and not necessarily everyone in the community is feeling those changes or necessarily see those impacts. I think there is a middle ground between that, right? But I got to see a lot more about the economic and the industrial growth that’s happening, and particularly in space. That’s a big thing for us right now because of SpaceX. I think four out of the six people [in my community interviews] talked about SpaceX. It’s something that’s on everyone’s minds. There are different opinions, which was really interesting as well—to hear different stakeholders’ opinions on these people that are coming in or programs that the government’s running. I got a more nuanced view.

Brownsville… it’s very family-focused. I don’t know if I’ll come back after college—that’s a long way off. But what was cool is I did get to meet a lot of people, even kids my age, who are very adamant that they are coming back. They are ready to come back. [I met] one student studying at Saint Mary’s and San Antonio and another student at Austin—they’re not in Brownsville studying, but they want to come back. Those family connections, that pride in the community—I think that’s really good for Brownsville. I think that’s going to really continue to bring people of high talent into the community, continue to help it grow.

Do you think this internship will influence what classes you take during the rest of your time at UT?

No, I don’t think so, because as a double-major, I don’t have a lot of flexibility in my classes. [Laughs] But I think it will impact the way I approach life. I’ll have more of an interest in what’s going on in Austin City government. In terms of civic engagement, I’m just a lot more aware and I’m really thankful that I’m more aware. I’m going to try to stay engaged in that way.

What’s the experience from this summer that will stick with you most?

Brownsville had a city manager for the past three years—Noel Bernal—and he came in and brought a lot of change, really good change. He really wanted to see Brownsville grow, wanted to bring things that were really limiting Brownsville to a higher standard. Part of that was the total alignment culture that he helped develop. It talks about behavioral values, like trust, innovation, communication and participation. That’s something that was really cool to walk into.

Then the day I started, [Bernal] announced that he was leaving. [Laughs] So part of this whole internship has been getting to watch and navigate that transition to our current interim city manager, Ms. Helen Ramirez. Myself and another intern, we had an opportunity to be part of the transition management team. That really made it a very different in terms of experience. I really got to see how many people really believed in [their values]. It was something that I myself was like, “I believe in this for Brownsville.” That was pretty cool.