UTEP celebrates 100 years of history

 UTEP celebrates 100 years of history

January 8, 2014

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Editor's Note: The University of Texas at El Paso will celebrate its 100 year throughout 2014.

By Jenn Crawford / Special to the Times

Did you know that Texas Western College, now The University of Texas at El Paso, was the first institution of higher education in the state to desegregate its undergraduate program?

Did you know that the first El Paso-born Olympian was a UTEP student named Javier Montez?

Did you know that renowned sculptor Urbici Soler, who built the statue on Mount Cristo Rey, later became a UTEP faculty member?

Do you know the story behind UTEP's unique Bhutanese architecture?

Did you know that UTEP contributes $1.3 billion to the El Paso County economy each year?

Over the next year, the stories in this space will look at key moments in the last century where El Paso history and UTEP history connected. Were you at the airport when the men's basketball team returned from the NCAA championship game in 1966?

Did you attend a sold-out performance of the UTEP Dinner Theatre's first show, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," in 1983? Was your company or family one of the 80 that backed the original $50,000 needed to open the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy in 1914?

Through this weekly series in 2014 - UTEP's centennial year - readers will have the chance to learn about the role the university has played in the community, from its overall economic impact through payroll and operations expenses to the impact of local small business owners who graduated from UTEP.

The series will explore the history of the annual Texas College of Mines (TCM) Day tradition that involves rituals like "Kissing the Blarney Stone" and whitewashing the M on the mountain to celebrate the university's roots in mining and engineering. It will recall the prank in 1953 that involved students "borrowing" a live alligator from San Jacinto Plaza and placing it in a professor's office.

UTEP's history is rich with anecdotes about unique campus traditions such as the annual Minerpalooza community festival. The university boasts alumni who have gone on to have a national or global impact, such as former NASA astronaut Danny Olivas, TV newsman Sam Donaldson, NFL referee Ed Hochuli and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, as well as lesser-known but equally important names such as Dennis Poon, architect behind some of the world's tallest buildings; Mike Loya, president of one of the world's largest energy trading companies; and Hank Cohen, former CEO of MGM Television.

Readers will meet some of the former Paydirt Pete mascots who pumped up the crowds at football and basketball games in the Sun Bowl and Don Haskins Center, as well as the original 27 students who enrolled at the Texas School of Mines in 1914. Readers will also learn about the nation's first Peace Corps volunteers, who trained at Texas Western College (now UTEP).

"The impact of UTEP's nearly 100 years of creating high-quality academic and research opportunities for our students, and the achievements of the more than 110,000 graduates who have contributed so much to this community and beyond has been profound," said UTEP President Diana Natalicio. "It's hard to imagine this region without UTEP's many contributions to its development, growing prosperity and quality of life."

Members of the El Paso community are invited to share their memories of UTEP from years past. To share a story, send an email to univcomm@utep.edu.