October 7, 2021
Benito Vigil, a senior double majoring in Spanish and business, was one of just two New Mexico students selected to participate in the internship program facilitated by the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or HACU.
Vigil is a native of Las Vegas and said he learned of the internship opportunities offered through HACU from a global email Highlands sent out to all students. He was offered a paid internship with the Office of the Chief Operating Officer and the Managing Executive for Small Offices, or MESO, situated within the Securities and Exchange Commission.
This fall, 100 students from across the U.S. were admitted to internships with federal agencies and corporations via HACU. Ordinarily, these internships take place in Washington, D.C., but due to the pandemic, they are all being held remotely.
“There are a lot of benefits to working virtually,” said Vigil. “Since the Securities and Exchange Commission has 12 offices throughout the United States, I’ve been able to communicate with lawyers from the Miami office and offices closer to home, like Texas and Colorado. I am extremely grateful to my supervisor for making these introductions and I am extremely humbled to network with various high ranking officials in the agency.”
Vigil cites his parents’ decision to enroll him in bilingual education at Los Niños Elementary School as the beginning of his interest in the Spanish language. According to Vigil, his maternal great-grandparents were punished if they spoke Spanish in school, so his grandmother and mother were not encouraged to learn the language. Vigil said the Spanish immersion program at Los Niños made it possible for him to have access the language and cultural opportunities his parents and grandparents did not have.
Although there are no middle or high school bilingual programs in Las Vegas, Vigil said he continues taking Spanish courses.
“I continued with the language because I didn’t want that part of my culture to die off,” said Vigil. “Our ability to speak to others is a powerful way of connecting. I didn’t want to lose the ability to speak or understand the language because I didn’t want to be left vulnerable or left out of the conversation.”
Vigil currently serves as the president of the Spanish Club at Highlands. In addition to serving as the president of the Spanish Club and interning with MESO, Vigil is on the Youth Commission for the City of Las Vegas, and he is a past fellow of the Highlands University Legislative Leadership Fellowship. Vigil said his engagement in all these pursuits is in the service of uniting the community. He said he is especially inspired by the 100% Community located in San Miguel County.
As a part of his leadership role in the Spanish Club, Vigil helped bring the Spanish honor society, Sigma Delta Pi, to campus, which will provide peers and future students with even greater access to national scholarship opportunities and internships. He said he is already planning to bring a representative from HACU to Highlands so that other students can learn about the opportunity.
“The internship has already started opening doors for me,” said Vigil. “I have been able to network with lawyers and various high-level professionals within the federal government and the Securities Exchange Commission who have expressed the need for young people to continue the work that they do. They have shared their experiences and what we can do to prepare ourselves better to enter the workforce and be an active part of society.”
So far, Vigil has attended meetings to learn about what the Securities and Exchange Commission does, and he has been assigned some data collection and analysis projects. He said he will be involved in analyzing data regarding diversity and inclusion within the workforce.
What began as a 15-week internship has now been extended a for a full year. “I am excited to continue working with my awesome team,” said Vigil. “My supervisor has developed tasks to help expand my knowledge and build my leadership skills.”
“I am working about 40 hours for the internship and trying to balance school and life,” said Vigil. “It’s been interesting, and I have a great team behind me at the Securities and Exchange Commission. They’re so welcoming, and they want to help the youth succeed. They are willing to share their experiences, advice, and knowledge they wish they had gotten when they were my age.”
Vigil said students from rural areas like Las Vegas don’t often have access to opportunities like the HACU internship, and he hopes other students at Highlands will apply in the future.
“The internship has allowed me to go outside of my comfort zone and work with different organizations at different levels,” said Vigil. “The continuous support from past educators, faculty at Highlands, SEC coworkers/employees, community members, family, and friends have all helped me to grow and push myself to take part in these different opportunities. They have played a major part in shaping who I am.”