The best way to get to know the small town of McAllen, Texas is by visiting local taco shops, the best of which are in gas stations, said Greg Pogue, IC² Institute’s deputy executive director. Pogue said students will discover innovative and successful businesses in small towns like these through a new paid University internship program.
The IC² Institute aims to explore economic, technological and human factors that drive regional economic development, according to their website. Pogue said the institute and the School of Undergraduate Studies partnered to create Home to Texas in spring 2019, a program to encourage students from rural communities to go back to their hometowns. The program motivates students to contribute to their hometown economy after they graduate by sending students to interview local leaders and work in local businesses, Pogue said.
Home to Texas sent nine students to four different communities in its pilot this past summer but aims to send 50 students to 10 different communities in the summer of 2020, said Art Markman, IC² Institute's executive director.
“With this internship, students have the opportunity to work in a professional environment while learning about the economic development of their community,” Markman said. “We hope to tie the program to a larger research project, so we are not only benefiting students and their communities, but are also gathering data that our researchers can use to better understand smaller communities in Texas.”
Blueprints for starting a business are often focused on metropolitan areas and not small, remote areas, said Shaena Reyes, marketing and business honors sophomore. Reyes, who participated in the pilot program last summer in her hometown of McAllen, Texas, said the program’s goal is to create a framework for starting a successful business in a smaller town.
“Home to Texas was a perfect opportunity for me to stay home and get internship experience,” Reyes said. “Entrepreneurship is something I’m interested in, and the internship gave me an avenue to speak with entrepreneurs in my own hometown.”
Reyes said Home to Texas also benefits small communities by bringing in talented college students.
“A lot of people come to UT to leave their small towns … because they think there are no opportunities there,” Reyes said. “Going back to McAllen and seeing it from a different perspective. … I realized there’s a lot of potential for a career there that I had never realized.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Art Markman's title. The Texan regrets this error.