Paying it Forward

Internships Can Start a Career or Change a Life

Thanks to an internship, Levi Jimenez’s life spun in a whole new direction.

Laid off from his ag industry job in 2009, the art graduate and Salinas native heard about a program to retrain workers in green infrastructure. He signed on, assuming it would lead to work installing solar panels.

But the eight-month program turned out to be much more: The Clean Energy/Green Construction Training Program, a public-private partnership jointly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the California Employee Development Department, the Monterey Workforce Investment Board, and the Hartnell Center for Sustainable Design & Construction, laid the foundation for a career Jimenez had never imagined.

The program, equal parts classroom training and paid internship, led to full-time employment as a project coordinator with BuildingWise, a Moss Landing-based contractor that had partnered with Hartnell, and within a few years, Jimenez was promoted to senior project manager.

These days, Jimenez owns his own green building consultancy, having bought that previous company and rebranded it as Viable Green Building Solutions. Housed in the historic 1898 McDougal building, which also houses First Awakenings restaurant in Oldtown Salinas, Jimenez now specializes in LEED, Energy Star, and other green building certifications and works with some of the biggest names in commercial real estate on performance benchmarks.

A decade after starting out in a new field, he’s now paying it forward, creating internship opportunities to help others advance their career dreams.

“Last year, it got to the point where I obviously needed help, so I tapped into Monterey Bay Internships, which was really easy to use,” says Jimenez.” The hardest part was summarizing what I needed done because it’s such a broad spectrum.”


Jimenez wanted to create a learning experience for someone in his own community, so he focused on students and recent graduates from Hartnell and Monterey Peninsula colleges and California State University, Monterey Bay. 

“I went from being unemployed — sleeping on my sister’s floor in her spare bedroom — to being a student, then started as an intern and was eventually hired,” says Jimenez. “I was an intern, so I really wanted to pay it forward.”

Jimenez interviewed 10 candidates before deciding on Nathan Morrison, a recent CSUMB environmental studies graduate, who started his 90-day internship on Feb. 1, 2020. When the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect six weeks later, technology allowed for the internship to seamlessly transition to virtual. 

At the end of the internship, Morrison was hired on a part-time basis, and in January was promoted to a full-time position.

Another applicant ended up doing contract work for Jimenez, which has ultimately given her experience to land additional jobs, and Jimenez has just recently posted a new administrative internship opportunity on Monterey Bay Internships.

“The most important thing about an internship is that you’re handing off something valuable to someone who is going to use it eventually,” says Jimenez. “I was afforded that opportunity, and I just wanted to afford that to someone else in my community.“

Pictured, from left, Viable Green Building Project Coordinator Nathan Morrison and Founder and Senior Consultant Levi R. Jimenez. Photo courtesy of Viable Green Building.