After working jobs in construction, customer service and other trade work for several years, Roberto Hinojosa decided to return to school so he could provide a better life for his family.
But Hinojosa, 35, from Weslaco, who graduated from The University of Texas-Pan American with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering in July 2009, knew taking classes alone would not land him a job.
That's why he turned to The University of Texas-Pan American's Office of Career Services, which he credits with helping him get ahead of the competition.
The experience he gained from internships he found through Career Services helped him obtain employment with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Hinojosa, who starts his new job in Austin June 1, will be an environmental investigator with the TCEQ.
"Career Services at Pan Am is a big help. I think that you're hard-pressed to find a job; if you haven't done an internship it's even harder," Hinojosa said.
The Office of Career Services not only can assist students in finding internships and employment, but it also helps students prepare for the job hunt, said Ricardo Ramirez Jr., a Career Services placement specialist for the College of Science and Engineering.
Career Services conducts mock interviews with students, teaches dining etiquette and provides tips on writing résumés and dressing appropriately for interviews, among other services. The office also hosts job fairs throughout the school year, Ramirez said.
The office hopes to help more students find experience and employment, he said.
"We wish that 100 percent would participate, but a lot of students are so focused on school that they don't realize that there's two paths they're pursuing, and that's one thing we always tell them, that apart from their educational path they have a career path which involves all these soft skills which they have to attain," Ramirez said. "We encourage them to come to our office, the sooner the better."
Hinojosa obtained an internship with Halliburton in Mission and after graduating from UTPA, he landed another with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.
"(Having internships) gives you an edge on other professionals," said Hinojosa. "To find an engineering job in the Valley is very difficult. You need to have the social connections within the community to help you land that job."
John Rustick, associate administrator at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance said the doctor-owned and managed hospital system wants to be involved in the community, so when it heard that UTPA students said there were few opportunities for hands-on experience in the Rio Grande Valley, it contacted the University and offered paid internships to students.
Interns are given projects that provide real-world experience in how to work with others and handle the pressures associated with being an engineer, Rustick said.
Hinojosa's main project was to design and build the Oasis food court in the hospital's atrium. He was responsible for every aspect of its creation, from determining where the plumbing and electrical systems went to making sure the facilities passed building and health inspections, Rustick said.
"At a hospital there is no room for error. He did excellent. The project did open in time," Rustick said.
Hinojosa said the internship at the hospital was challenging, but he learned much from his assignments and is grateful for the experience.
"I have no doubt I can do an even better job at the TCEQ because I was exposed to a lot of stuff here," he said. "I'm better for being here."
Hinojosa said he would like to return to the Valley someday and help fellow UTPA students find work here.
"We can open up doors for other people so they won't have to leave," he said.
He urges students to contact Career Services as early as possible so they can receive assistance in finding internships and preparing their résumés. Hinojosa also recommended students get involved in career-related organizations, help professors on research projects and not be reluctant to leave the Rio Grande Valley for awhile.
"Broaden your horizons," he said.
For more information on the Office of Career Services, visit http://dua.utpa.edu.