NEW FuelAL Fellowship encourages students to stay in Alabama after graduation


FuelAL Fellows
(Left to Right) Maritza Hernandez-Mata, Francisco Martinez, Caroline Keim and Diamond Daniels, four of the Fellows in the first FuelAL cohort. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

This summer, interns from across the Southeast have come to Birmingham to learn about professional opportunities in Alabama through the FuelAL Fellowship. We caught up with four Fellows in the cohort to find out how why they now love Alabama.

Learn more about being a FuelAL Fellow.

What is the FuelAL Fellowship?

EDPA / Alabama Launchpad
The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA) building, headquarters of Alabama Launchpad. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Did you know that Alabama has a college graduate retention problem? Although countless students graduate from Alabama’s colleges and universities each year, only about two of every three in-state students and only one of every five out-of-state students actually stay in Alabama one year after graduation.

FuelAL wants to change that.

Through the FuelAL Fellowship—an inaugural program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama—FuelAL aims to improve retention of Alabama’s brightest minds post-graduation. In its first year, the program was open to students participating in a summer internship or co-op program and provides training, experiences, and exposure to professional opportunities and life beyond the 9-5 throughout the state.

Meet 4 FuelAL Fellows

1. Caroline Keim

FuelAL Fellows
Caroline Keim, FuelAL Fellow. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)
  • Hometown: Dunwoody, Georgia
  • Employer: The Economic Development Partnership of Alabama
  • Bio: A recent graduate of Auburn University with a degree in Public Relations, Caroline recently landed an internship with the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. In her free time, Caroline loves running, hanging out with friends and making cookies.

Bham Now: Why is FuelAL such a valuable experience?

“Although Alabama has many incredible universities and colleges, the state has an issue with retaining students after they graduate. FuelAL really wants to reframe the post-grad perspective for college students in Alabama, and I’m a great example of that. I was an out-of-state student at Auburn University, but I didn’t want to live in Alabama after graduation. Luckily, I started to visit Birmingham and realized I could see a life for myself here.”

Caroline Keim

Bham Now: How does FuelAL showcase the professional opportunities in Alabama to the Fellows?

“In each of our program trips, FuelAL has lined up representatives from prominent companies in the city to help the FuelAL Fellows picture a life in Alabama. For example, during the Huntsville trip, we’ve lined up a panel of city planners and community leaders to speak on the progress of Huntsville and what their vision for the city is.”

Caroline Keim

2. Diamond Daniels

Diamond Daniels, FuelAL Fellow. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)
  • Hometown: Durham, North Carolina
  • Employer: Protective Life
  • Bio: Born and raised in North Carolina, Diamond is currently studying Actuarial Science at Appalachian State University in Boone. In her free time, you can find Diamond crocheting, knitting and practicing other crafty projects alongside her loyal companion, a Maltese named Pluto.

Bham Now: Before FuelAL, what did you think of Alabama? Could you see yourself finding a career in Alabama?

“Before coming here, I thought that Alabama was just rural, southern country. But all of these people I’ve met are very up with the times while still being great examples of Southern hospitality.

I came into the FuelAL Fellowship with no expectations; I wanted to keep an open mind. Seeing the action and energy in Birmingham and Huntsville has surprised me—I could definitely see a future for myself in Alabama!”

Diamond Daniels
The 2022 FuelAL Fellowship cohort in Huntsville. (EDPA)

Bham Now: What are the most valuable takeaways of the FuelAL program for you?

“One of the reasons why I wanted to come to Birmingham specifically for my internship is because of the city’s rich Civil Rights history. As a young African American woman, I want to hear about that and I want to learn more. During the program, we’ve been on tours to learn about that history firsthand. You can’t just Google it, you have to go in person to truly see what it means. For me, that has been the most valuable part of my FuelAL experience.”

Diamond Daniels

Bham Now: What would you say to other students interested in the FuelAL program?

“FuelAL is such a great opportunity for anyone interested in learning more about what the state has to offer. We’re lucky to be members of the first cohort through the program, and I can truly say that FuelAL has had a positive impact on me. The FuelAL Fellowship really solidified for me that Alabama is a serious contender for where I may end up after I graduate.”

Diamond Daniels

3. Maritza Hernandez-Mata

FuelAL Fellows
Maritza Hernandez-Mata, FuelAL Fellow. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)
  • Hometown: Fyffe, Alabama
  • Employer: Shipt
  • Bio: A rising senior from the town of Fyffe, Maritza is currently studying Digital Marketing at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. Maritza spends her free time at the gym, hiking, working on DIY projects, painting and taking care of her cats.

Bham Now: How did you hear about FuelAL? Why did you choose to apply?

“This summer, I’m interning with Shipt’s creative content marketing team here in Birmingham. I heard about FuelAL through the Shipt team, and I really liked what FuelAL was trying to accomplish with the program. I’m the type of person that is going to leap for any opportunity, so I decided to apply!”

Maritza Hernandez-Mata

Bham Now: What has been the best part about your internship with FuelAL?

“Definitely the people! I’ve met so many wonderful people through this program, and we all clicked in the first couple of hours. It’s made all of our trips so enjoyable, because we all get along.”

Maritza Hernandez-Mata

Bham Now: Has your time in the FuelAL Fellowship made you think about staying in Alabama post-graduation?

“Absolutely! Growing up in a small town, I’ve always thought about leaving Alabama once I graduate. But that small town is all I really knew—I had only visited Huntsville a time or two, and I had never visited Mobile or Montgomery. This program has given me a great perspective on the opportunities in Alabama, and it has definitely sparked my interest in staying!”

Maritza Hernandez-Mata

4. Francisco Martinez

FuelAL Fellows
Francisco Martinez, FuelAL Fellow. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)
  • Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
  • Employer: The University of Alabama System Office
  • Bio: Francisco is currently a senior at The University of Alabama majoring in Mechanical Engineering. When he’s not studying or working, Francisco enjoys soccer, board games and playing with his two dogs—a Yorkie named Buddy and a Pitbull named Thor.

Bham Now: What has been the most valuable part of your time with FuelAL?

“The connections! I think the FuelAL team has done a great job of exposing us Fellows to valuable networking opportunities that will help us in the long run.”

Francisco Martinez
The 2022 FuelAL Fellowship cohort during a visit to the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville. (EDPA)

Bham Now: Where has FuelAL taken you this summer?

“First, we spent a weekend in Mobile to visit some of the industrial facilities there, including the assembly area for Airbus. Since I’m majoring in Mechanical Engineering, that experience was really fun for me. I’m really excited to visit the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation and Integration Center during our trip to Huntsville.”

Francisco Martinez

Bham Now: Even though you aren’t a stranger to Alabama, did you learn anything while exploring the state?

“Although I’ve lived in Alabama for a long time, I usually don’t leave Tuscaloosa. For me, FuelAL has been a great opportunity to explore the state, see new things and meet exciting new people.”

Francisco Martinez

Learn More About FuelAL

FuelAL Fellows
FuelAL Fellows in the EDPA Headquarters in Birmingham. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)

Although the inaugural FuelAL Fellowship cohort is nearly complete, there are plenty of opportunities to participate in the future—and you don’t have to be a student!

Employers — Want to help showcase what Alabama has to offer? Reach out to to get started.

Students — Want to participate in the next FuelAL Fellowship? Visit the FuelAL website to learn more.

Sponsored by:

Nathan Watson
Nathan Watson

Senior Content Producer + Photographer

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