Providing Essential Experience through National Migrant Scholar Internship

In 2014, CoBank partnered with Michigan State University to begin developing a paid internship pilot in conjunction with the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), an organization that assists first-generation college students who are migratory or seasonal farmworkers, or the children of these workers, to pursue their educational goals. CoBank’s grant built upon the success of CAMP to provide these students with essential work experience.

Now known as the National Migrant Scholar Internship (NMSI) initiative, the CoBank-sponsored program has expanded to partner with CAMP programs at more than 50 colleges and universities. It has supported more than 120 internships with 75 employers in industries ranging from agriculture to healthcare.

“NMSI continues to develop internships for students that weren’t viable in the past,” said Luis A. Garcia, director of Migrant Student Services and NMSI. “CoBank’s contributions give us a platform that provides employers with a pool of eager, diverse students who are craving opportunities. CAMP students who have participated in NMSI and are now entering the workforce have been transformed!”

Luis Garcia is director of Migrant Student Services at Michigan State University and the NMSI program. Samantha Velez is NMSI’s associate director and manages much of the day-to-day interaction with program participants./figcaption>

One of those students is Jerardo Jasso, one of the first NMSI participants to intern at CoBank’s Colorado headquarters, and the first to be hired from the program.

“I’ve been around agriculture all my life,” said Jasso. “I grew up on a watermelon farm in South Texas, raised cows and pigs and participated in FFA, so agriculture has always been very important to me.”

“Through the CAMP program, I was offered a full-ride scholarship at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, where I majored in finance and international business. During my junior year, the CAMP director told me about NMSI and the opportunity for an internship with CoBank. I applied and started as an intern in the Strategic Relationships division in the summer of 2017.”

Jerardo Jasso was one of the fi rst NMSI participants to intern at CoBank’s Colorado headquarters. He is also the fi rst to be hired as a permanent employee of the bank.

Jasso’s internship taught him all about CoBank and the Farm Credit System, opening up a career path that brought together his love of agriculture and his university studies.

“I realized that CoBank was really the perfect place for me,” said Jasso. “I applied for a second internship and then to the Credit Advancement Program, and on October 1, 2019, I accepted a full-time position as a credit analyst in the Sacramento office.”

Brenda Lopez, a psychology student at Drury University, in Springfield, MO, also found a CoBank internship through NMSI. “I didn’t really think that an internship was possible for me,” said Lopez. “I was working three jobs and going to school full-time. Most of the internships I saw were unpaid so when I heard about NMSI, which offered a paid internship with a housing stipend, I thought it sounded too good to be true.”

“My parents were migrant farm workers,” said Lopez. “They never went to college and didn’t even graduate from high school. They’ve never had things handed to them, so they taught me to be very cautious. But this was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.”

Through her internship with CoBank’s Human Resources department, Lopez had an opportunity to see a diverse group of people in management roles.

Brenda Lopez interned with CoBank’s Human Resources team in 2019. Lopez says that her CoBank internship was eye opening and helped her to see how she could help to inspire others in the program.

“There were days during my internship when I experienced a lot of self-doubt,” said Lopez. “When I was growing up, I didn’t see a lot of Latinos in positions of power and so I often found myself asking if I should really be there [at CoBank]. But when I saw all of the other people of color working there, it was really eye-opening for me. I realized that if they could do it, so could I.”

Both Lopez and Jasso recommend the NMSI experience for other CAMP students.

“NMSI offers workshops and training to help prepare CAMP students for their internships,” said Jasso. “Most of us have never had exposure to companies like CoBank. It’s helpful to have people who can help prepare you to take full advantage of the experience.”

“It can be scary,” said Lopez. “But you have to take advantage of every opportunity. In the end, you may be a role model and the inspiration that helps others to succeed.”