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TCEQ Celebrates 30 Years of the Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is celebrating its 30th anniversary of the Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program this year.

The paid summer internship places undergraduate and graduate college students pursuing environmental, science, engineering, public administration, public health, computer technology, accounting, business, law, and communications degrees at TCEQ or other participating state agencies, county and city governments, and participating private sector companies from across the state.

John Hall, the founding chairman of TCEQ’s predecessor agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, began the program in 1991 as a memorial for his friend and former U.S. Congressman Mickey Leland, who died in an airplane crash in 1989 en route to Ethiopia on a mission as Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Hunger.

“I was always encouraged by his commitment to improving the quality of life of people of color as well as low income persons, while at the same time being very committed to addressing environmental issues,” Hall said. “At the time he was one of the few minority leaders in the country who was highlighting the importance of effectively addressing environmental issues.”

The program, which began with 35 interns, is still going strong. It received more than 500 applicants last year and allows women, people of color, and economically disadvantaged students attending college to learn about career opportunities in the environmental field.

Since its inception, 2,390 interns have been placed into internships and some of the interns are still employed at TCEQ and participating sponsor companies.

“I know how passionate he (Mickey Leland) was about creating opportunities for students,” Alison Leland, an advisory board member for the MLEIP, said of her late husband. “It makes me so proud that there are students from across the country who are placed in meaningful, impactful internship opportunities across Texas.”

The internship is paid, which allows students who are responsible for supporting themselves to earn money while exploring future career opportunities. It also allows the sponsor to find talented interns who will be entering the workforce soon.

Jennifer Kirby, a 2016 graduate of the MLEIP, said having a flexible, paid internship over the summer made all the difference for her, and she gained experience that directly led to an entry level position at TCEQ. Kirby has now been with the agency for four years, which has included a promotion.

“Your mentor works with you all summer to introduce you to people across the agency and different program areas to find out what interests you,” Kirby said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the program. If I didn’t have the internship, I wouldn’t have been hired as an entry level analyst and then I wouldn’t have been promoted to my current role as a GIS work lead,” Kirby said. “What sparked my professional career was the Mickey Leland Environmental Internship Program.”

Now she gives back to the program by speaking about her experience at conferences. She even recently started a LinkedIn page for graduates of the program so that they can continue to help each other with career advice and goals.

Last year the program placed about 60 students in internships, instead of the anticipated 150, because of the pandemic. This year, with organizations and companies more prepared for telecommuting, the program hopes to have more sponsors so that it can place even more students into internships.

Organizations with a presence in Texas may sponsor a summer intern through the MLEIP. Sponsors who participate are asked to provide internship placements and compensate the students. Sponsors set internship dates, rate of pay, duties performed, and work hours for the interns.

For more information on becoming a summer internship sponsor, visit TCEQ’s MLEIP sponsor webpage and submit a sponsor request form by March 31, 2021. You may also contact Juanita Baldwin, MLEIP education and outreach coordinator, at juanita.baldwin@tceq.texas.gov or 512-239-0105.

Students interested in applying to the MLEIP can learn more about the program on the TCEQ website or on the MLEIC websiteExit the TCEQ. Applications are accepted through Feb. 28, 2021.