ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - Recent graduates from 10 universities across the country received warm welcomes from U.S. Army Sustainment Command staff as they arrived to begin their civil service internships thanks to the Minority College Relations Program here, Jan. 16.

The 15-week MCRP is sponsored by the Equal Opportunity Office, and is designed to recruit graduates from 30 eligible universities and place them in positions at one of more than 50 ASC and Joint Munitions Command installations in the United States.

"My new position in the ASC history office neatly supplements my education and experience. I look forward to learning all I can in my new position," said Ethan Hurtado, a sociology graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"It is a great honor to be here serving my country," Hurtado said.

Carmen Ausborn, equal employment specialist, ASC Equal Employment Opportunity Office, has been the contracting officer's representative and MCRP coordinator for the last five sessions.

"I'm really happy to see the MCRP program up and running again. It's a valuable program and it gives interns the opportunity to experience working in a government environment that they might not ordinarily have," Ausborn said.

The program was stopped from 2012 to 2017 due to a lack of funding.

"Programs such as the MCRP require advocacy not only to fund, but also to ensure the experience for both the student and the commands they're enriching," said Jim Coffman, MCRP champion and deputy to the executive director, Acquisition Integration and Management Center.

"Their exposure to government service -- whether they pursue a career in government or not -- can serve as a catalyst to generate interest to pursue a federal career, which in the long term endures beyond their experience here on Rock Island Arsenal," Coffman said.

As per Executive Orders 12876, 12900 and 13021, relationships cultivated between the ASC/JMC and historically Black Colleges, Hispanic Serving Institutions and Tribal Colleges have resulted in a strong internship program within the commands.

Michael Hutchison, ASC deputy to the commanding general, started working as a GS-5 more than 30 years ago. He spoke to MCRP interns their first day.

"Serving the federal government is a noble thing. We hope to build a relationship with you and spark that interest in working for the nation," he said.

Initiated in 1996, the ASC/JMC MCRP develops collaborative programs within the commands, allowing minority institutions to participate in the programs -- enhancing the readiness of each through these partnerships.

"When you're working for the federal government, you're providing your intellectual capital to making the government and the country run more efficiently and effectively," Hutchison said.

According to the intake briefing given to the MCRP interns on Jan. 16, research has shown that the program directly counters the government brain drain, adds transparency to hiring, makes diversity achievable and makes a ready and willing workforce.

Diversity strengthens the workforce, which increases mission readiness, attendees were told.

"I am very honored to be chosen for this program. When filling out the application I never thought I'd be selected. I feel very blessed," said Renesha Blackmon, an accounting major from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff assigned to the ASC Resource Management office.

"Everyone here is very friendly and eager to teach, and I am eager to learn," Blackmon said.

To be eligible for the program, students must be at least a junior enrolled in a four-year degree program or have graduated within six months from one of the 30 participating institutions. Students must also be U.S. citizens and pass a national background check.

ASC interns include: Renesha Blackmon, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Derek Gamble, Alabama A&M University; Jacob Garcia, Florida Atlantic University; Stephanie Glenn, Virginia State University; Ethan Hurtado, University of Illinois at Chicago; and Misha Wille, University of New Mexico.

JMC interns include: Idrisha Bamba, University of Illinois at Chicago; Shawn Banks, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Davona Cooper, Alabama Agriculture & Mechanical University; Eldria Coleman, Jackson State University; Lynette Cullins, New Mexico State University; Tevon Jones, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Rachel McAfee, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Coung Tran, Florida Atlantic University; Francisco Velasquez, Fresno State University; and Tanyra Williams, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.