UTEP and Fort Bliss Partner on Internship Program

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

A dozen UTEP students have been hand-picked to kick off a brand new internship program providing real-world applications for academic know-how in the midst of the U.S. Army’s most progressive arena.

The Brigade Modernization Command (BMC) is offering the chance for undergraduate and graduate students to earn a yearlong internship spot with their unit. And they’re doing it for the first time ever with UTEP.(Back row) Interns David Herrera, James Treftz, Omeiza Jatto, Alejandro Cano, Matthew Harding, Lannie Lee Mendez-Patton and Phillip Romero attended an event launching their new internship program with Fort Bliss. Joining them were (front row) Miguel Velez-Reyes, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Benjamin Flores, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP Graduate School; Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP College of Engineering; Michael R. Smith, Ph.D, vice provost; Patricia Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP College of Liberal Arts; and Caroline Garland, senior lecturer in the Communication Department. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service(Back row) Interns David Herrera, James Treftz, Omeiza Jatto, Alejandro Cano, Matthew Harding, Lannie Lee Mendez-Patton and Phillip Romero attended an event launching their new internship program with Fort Bliss. Joining them were (front row) Miguel Velez-Reyes, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Benjamin Flores, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP Graduate School; Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP College of Engineering; Michael R. Smith, Ph.D, vice provost; Patricia Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP College of Liberal Arts; and Caroline Garland, senior lecturer in the Communication Department. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

An event announcing this unique program and its inaugural participants took place Oct. 17 at BMC headquarters. VIPs from the Army and UTEP were in attendance, along with half of the interns representing their student peers. Those interns were introduced to their BMC mentors for the first time and the enthusiasm for collaboration on both sides was hard to miss.

“I’m very excited – it’s a great opportunity for everybody at UTEP,” said Master of Science in Systems Engineering candidate David Herrera. “I imagine it’s going to help differentiate us from everyone who graduates and doesn’t have any [work] experience. We’ll get to see the real-world applications of what we’re learning actually happening in the field.”

“It’s already a big financial obligation to go to college or grad school,” Herrera added. “So to not have to leave town for an internship really enables those who may not have a lot of means to get all the support they need here at home.”

The internship provides graduate school students with coaching, teaching and mentoring to bolster real-world skills and opportunities for post-graduation employment. Students commit to a full academic year of interning with the Brigade Modernization Command (BMC) and participate in two Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) semi-annual evaluations designed to integrate and mature the Army’s tactical network. The internship could also bolster the potential for future employment with the Department of Defense and its industry partners. It’s also representative of the strong relationship between Fort Bliss, the U.S. Army and the El Paso community.

Maj. Charles R. Valentine of the BMC described how the idea for the 15-hour-per week unpaid internships grew from a telephone query more than a year ago into the formalized program providing exposure and hands-on knowledge that it has become. “That’s what the program is all about. We’re putting them in contact with not only us, the military, but also our industry partners,” Valentine said.

“This is a day we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” said Brig. Gen. John W. Charlton, Commanding General of the Brigade Modernization Command, reiterating the significance of this internship program – the first the unit has ever done with anyone. He then explained how the BMC is a fairly new development in how the Army works with respect to how new technology is tested and evaluated through mock battles and assessment of both individual and collective effectiveness.

“It allows us to have a partnership with education that’s fairly unique from other military organizations,” he said before turning his attention to the interns, to whom he promised a helicopter ride in addition to the immersive work they would be engaged in during simulations and operations exercises conducted out in the desert.

“One of the problems in the military is that we sometimes get set in our ways of thinking,” Charlton said. “So it’s very good whenever you get an opportunity to bring in new, fresh ideas, and it gets us to step back and think of things in different ways. That’s very healthy and we’re really looking forward to it.”

Charlton also explained that mentors – all BMC staff under Charlton’s command – will connect with interns on a daily basis not only to answer questions, but also to discuss the students’ objectives and how they can achieve those objectives through the program. Students will be expected to give feedback to their mentors so as to continually improve the program.

“Don’t worry – there are no haircut requirements,” Charlton joked.

“Across engineering, computer science and the liberal arts, this program will help many UTEP students and allow the Army to benefit from their talents,” said Michael R. Smith, Ph.D, Vice Provost at UTEP.  Also representing UTEP at the event were Benjamin Flores, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP Graduate School; Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP College of Engineering; Patricia Witherspoon, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP College of Liberal Arts; Caroline Garland, senior lecturer in the Communication Department; and Miguel Velez-Reyes, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Having had the opportunity to go out into the testing field and see “the world’s most sophisticated army at work,” Smith encouraged the students, saying, “I think you’ll be amazed by what you’ll see. I know I was. And you’ll be involved in the cutting-edge technology that you see being used out there. I know you’ll learn a lot and I’m confident that the BMC will learn from our students as well.”

The Brigade Modernization Command is an organization of 225 military personnel, Department of the Army civilians and defense contractors who focus on Army modernization. BMC personnel evaluate the Army’s tactical network and emerging capabilities and make recommendations on doctrine, organization, training, material, leadership and education, personnel and facilities.

The BMC’s expertise includes network, system and software engineers; system analysts; public affairs/strategic communications; social networking/media; information assurance; modeling and simulation; logistics; intelligence planning/threat assessments; and training.

The students selected for this initial round of internships are: Master of Science in Systems Engineering candidates Thomas Brown, Jose Cerino, Juan Pablo Fernandez, David Herrera, Alfonso Hidrogo, Omeiza Jatto, Arturo Martinez and James Treftz; Master of Science in Software Engineering candidate Alejandro Cano; Master of Arts in Rhetoric and Writing Studies candidate Matthew Harding; Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering candidate Noel Martinez; Bachelor of Arts in Organization/Corporate Communication candidate Lannie Lee Mendez-Patton; and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design candidate Phillip Romero.

Flores acknowledged how much it means for the second-largest Army installation in the United States to select UTEP for a pilot program of this nature.

“Strategically, it makes perfect sense,” Flores said. “Also, it’s an opportunity for us to launch UTEP as a center of investigation and knowledge. The fact that the Army realizes that is very important.”

Romero, who served two tours with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan before enrolling at UTEP, is proud to be working with Fort Bliss.

“It’s really hard for veterans to find jobs or internships,” he said. “I’m hoping to walk away with a healthy portfolio that’ll express my personality as well as my ability to show attention to detail, as is the custom with military procedures. There were times when I was in the military when I thought, ‘We could do this more creatively,’ so now’s my chance.”