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$15K Grant from Union Pacific Foundation Supports UHD Community Internships


By Sheryl E. Taylor

For the past five years, UHD’s Center for Community Engagement & Service Learning (CCESL) has offered opportunities for students, faculty and staff to engage with local communities.

This summer, CCESL hosted its inaugural Union Pacific - UHD Community Internships Initiative. Thanks to a $15,000 grant through the Union Pacific Foundation’s Union Pacific Railroad Community Ties Giving Program, CCESL provided 10-week summer internships in 12 nonprofit organizations to 25 UHD students, selected from a pool of 118 applicants. Through this grant, CCESL provided financial assistance to these students, fulfilled internship requirements in certain departments, and addressed community needs. The funds made it possible for eight students to virtually intern at non-profits. Additional funds were used for 17 more students for a total of 25.

­­­According to CCESL’s “Grant Status & Impact Report,” the grant’s objective was to put youth on the right track by creating awareness of family-supporting jobs like those Union Pacific offers, and building foundational, technical and life skills.

Union Pacific’s Community Ties Giving Program provides small-and medium-sized grants that align with the railroad’s priority cause areas in safety, workforce development and community spaces.

“Union Pacific proudly supports organizations that improve the quality of life where our employees live and work,” said Scott Moore, Senior Vice President-Corporate Relations, Chief Administrative Officer and Union Pacific Foundation President. “Investing in high-quality, nonprofit programs puts our communities in a position for future growth and prosperity.”

The gift came to fruition through a collaborative effort with CCESL and UHD’s University Advancement to locate funding sources for the Center’s initiatives. The summer internship program at non-profits hosted by CCESL was started three years ago with state funding, and it has been highly successful.

“Internship experiences provide many skills—communication, critical-thinking, problem-solving, teamwork and others—for our students. Such sought-after skills make our students more employable,” noted Gulati. “By enabling our students to gain internship experiences, this gift is advancing UHD’s mission to train its students with 21st century skills. The students represent UHD and shine a spotlight on the university. The interns feel more connected to UHD and are likely to stay engaged as alumni.”

Gulati believes that the support of community partners, such as Union Pacific Foundation and others, is because of a shared belief of the importance of students practicing their acquired knowledge and skill sets in real-world settings.

“Students realize how to translate classroom learning into understanding and solving societal issues,” she noted. “The soft skills that students gain are highly useful for navigating in a global economy,” she said.

Students were able to fulfill internship requirements related to their degree plans, support the needs of the community, and obtain valuable experience to assist with career and personal development.

One such example is sophomore Melissa Lara who supported the Workers Defense Project (WDP) in two major projects that are providing direct assistance to workers whose jobs were affected by COVD-19 or are ineligible for any aid and building leadership in directly with immigrant working families communities. The psychology major assisted in securing $265,000 in direct financial assistance to 620 immigrant working families across Houston through WDP’s Undocumented Worker Fund and the Greater Houston Community Foundation Fund that provides stipends of $250 or $500 to the families in need. She also spoke with more than a 100 workers whose jobs were affected by COVID-19, facilitated meetings with workers and garnered 45 new members to WDP.

“Melissa has been an amazing team member for WDP in Houston,” said El Chele Iglesias, Houston Campaign Manager, Workers Defense Project. “She learned how to work in collaboration with diverse staff team members from different backgrounds.”


About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.