Student Papers Chronicle UTEP’s History for Future Readers

By Sandy Hicks

UTEP News Service

It’s not every day that a college student has a scholarly paper published, much less archived in their university library for historical and academic posterity. This spring, nine student papers were donated to the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections department at UTEP’s University Library during a ceremony and reception tied to UTEP’s Centennial Celebration.

The University’s Centennial Celebration planners saw this “capstone” project as another way to engage the student body in a celebration of UTEP’s unique history and accomplishments, to showcase its present strengths, and develop national and international recognition.Oscar Navarro, right, explains his history project to UTEP history buff Willie Quinn. The research of Navarro and his classmates is archived in the library's Special Collections department. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service Oscar Navarro, right, explains his history project to UTEP history buff Willie Quinn. The research of Navarro and his classmates is archived in the library's Special Collections department. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Keith Erekson, Ph.D., executive director of the Centennial Celebration and faculty member who led this capstone class and project, believes these papers will serve as a time capsule of student research and authorship for decades to come. He designed the class specifically for student authors to create vignettes of the history of The University of Texas at El Paso. Students selected their own areas of interest, conducted research, and translated their findings into scholarly papers for future generations of Miners to read. 

Senior history major Samantha Vega studied the impact UTEP female graduates from 1928 to 1960 had on shaping the UTEP we know today.

"I find it surreal that I am having a paper archived,” Vega said. “I wanted to make sure the paper I turned in would be something that future students, my younger siblings, or even my own children will be able to enjoy."

Vega was shocked to find that not a single female had been enrolled in UTEP’s debut class of 1914, at that time known as the Texas College of Mines. Her research revealed that although women were enrolled the second year the university was open, no female student actually graduated until 1928. Vega thinks this could mean that women’s education in that era was secondary to finding a husband and getting married. 

Samantha Vega, left, stands by to answer questions as visitors to the University Library look at her reserach on the University's first female alumnae. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceSamantha Vega, left, stands by to answer questions as visitors to the University Library look at her reserach on the University's first female alumnae. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service“It was just how American society was at that time, and not much changed for several decades after that,” she said.

Vega’s classmate, Luis Santos, also felt the weighty responsibility of this endeavor. Santos’ paper focused on the era of desegregation in UTEP’s history.

“I felt positive pressure about this assignment,” Santos said. “I hope it can be used as reference material by others – and it will make them want to research this topic too.”

UTEP became the first university in the south to desegregate its undergraduate program in 1955. Santos discovered that desegregation brought deep social and academic changes to the UTEP campus.

“Desegregation emboldened all other minorities on campus,” he said. “Without it, there would be no MEChA, no Filipino Student Association or Chicano Studies program, to name a few,” he said.

The May 15event and reception to archive the student papers held in the McNeely Room on the 6th floor of the University Library was open to the public and attended by many friends and family of the students, as well as Centennial Museum director Maribel Villalba, UTEP historian Willie Quinn of the Heritage Museum, and Claudia Rivers, head of the library's Special Collections department. The students prepared displays to showcase their papers’ content for all in attendance to view.

An awards committee presented Arleen Reyes with the overall prize for her work on women faculty at UTEP. The runner-up prize went to Oscar Navarro for his work on music and band at the Texas College of Mines. Attendees voted the “People’s Choice” award to Ricky Ramirez for his display on alumni with distinguished military service.

Erekson is proud of his students and sees the archiving of their scholarly papers as an incredible opportunity to “time capsule” the perspective of the 2014 UTEP student. 

"My students have made some very significant discoveries,” he said. “I hope that their work will illuminate and inspire all of the UTEP community, both today and in the future."