September 28, 2021 | By Megan Martin  –  Data Reporter, Albuquerque Business First

New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Division recently announced it successfully completed a pilot program that awarded three high school students with paid summer internships at various local businesses. 

The X3 Internship Program paired high school students with local organizations to gain meaningful work experience while also earning a monthly stipend. According to a news release, this was New Mexico’s first paid outdoor industry internship pilot program.

The program is sponsored by the Outdoor Recreation Division and run by Albuquerque-based nonprofit Future Focused Education. According to the nonproft, students in the program put in a total of 423 hours with employers including Friends of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, River Source and Santa Fe Children’s Museum.

“The ‘X’ in our X3 Internship Program stands for ‘explore, experience, and expand,’” said Mike May, director of workforce learning at Future Focused Education. “It’s so gratifying to see that vision coming to life for young people in the outdoor sector in New Mexico.”

River Source Director Rich Schrader said the internship program wasn’t just beneficial for interns, but also helped solve a staffing challenge while sparking a future interest in water conservation.

“We found that the partners the internships are lined up with are local entities that are short staffed and need things done,” he said. “We can do projects with a cohort of kids and give them experience while getting important work done. That kind of partnership can be really important for cities dealing with drought, stormwater drought and education around water conservation.

“It’s making a big impact on the youth in terms of how they feel, like a spark being lit up and that they can make a difference when it comes to protecting water and climate change. “

Hannah Hauseman, executive director for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, echoed similar sentiments.

“During his time with us, Gabriel learned new skills centered around early childhood and the importance of nature-based play. He worked alongside our teachers to deliver Covid safe camps for children and helped to facilitate reservation-only visits with families in our acre-plus space, The Backyard,” said Hauseman. “We are extremely grateful to the Outdoor Recreation Department and the Future Focused Education X3 Internship Program for bringing this opportunity to the Children’s Museum, and for opening doors for future education and career opportunities for New Mexico’s youth.”

According to the news release, the Outdoor Recreation Division contributed $13,500 towards the program, which helped employers, support FFE in putting infrastructure in place and subsidize the intern stipends. The program will continue this fall with new students and an additional $14,100 in funding from the Outdoor Recreation Division.

“[The Outdoor Recreation Division] is committed to ensuring all New Mexicans gain from the public health, environmental and economic benefits of sustainable outdoor recreation,” said Axie Navas, director of the Outdoor Recreation Division. “Fundamentally, that means connecting our young people with family-sustaining, healthy, fulfilling careers in New Mexico. That is the vision behind this internship developed by FFE, which is committed to bringing opportunities for the best education to students who need it the most.”