President Heralds Centennial Kickoff With Recent University Accomplishments, Future Goals

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

Academic, community and Centennial pride were abundant at a special event held Sept. 19 for a group of invited guests who were treated to a sneak peak of UTEP’s new Welcome Center inside the Centennial Museum.

The event began adjacent to the museum on the Undergraduate Learning Center patio, with UTEP President Diana Natalicio reiterating the breadth and significance of the University’s recent accomplishments – including the #7 national ranking by Washington Monthly and UTEP’s role in re-defining standards for success by reflecting a changing global make-up.Official Centennial Welcome Center ribbon cutters include, from left, UTEP Development Board Chair Tripper Goodman, GECU CEO Crystal Long, UTEP President Diana Natalicio, 2014 Commission Co-Chair Ed Escudero, Centennial Celebration Executive Director Keith Erekson, Faculty Senate Vice President Marc Cox, Student Government Association President Paulina Lopez, Centennial Museum Director Maribel Villalva, and Staff Council Chair Maria Placencia. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceOfficial Centennial Welcome Center ribbon cutters include, from left, UTEP Development Board Chair Tripper Goodman, GECU CEO Crystal Long, UTEP President Diana Natalicio, 2014 Commission Co-Chair Ed Escudero, Centennial Celebration Executive Director Keith Erekson, Faculty Senate Vice President Marc Cox, Student Government Association President Paulina Lopez, Centennial Museum Director Maribel Villalva, and Staff Council Chair Maria Placencia. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

Flanked by campus leaders, Natalicio began by acknowledging the departure from an annual “State of the University” presentation, offering instead an “abbreviated annual report on UTEP’s growing success,” stressing the excitement to come over the next 15 months.

President Natalicio highlighted college and faculty accomplishments, among them the recent #1 ranking of the College of Business Administration by Hispanic Business magazine and creative writing Chair Benjamin Alire Sáenz receiving the PEN/Faulkner Award, America’s top juried prize for fiction. She reminded attendees that UTEP has the lowest out-of-pocket cost of attendance of all U.S. research universities as determined by the U.S. Department of Education — one big factor, perhaps, in enrollment surpassing 23,000 students for the first time ever this fall.

President Natalicio commended the faculty’s continued and dedicated contribution to enriched educational experiences for students, thus making them more prepared for successful careers after school. “Unusually robust” undergraduate research experiences have led to innovations such as start-up company American Water Recycling, founded by doctoral student Eva Deemer and business students Diego Capeletti and Alex Pastor, which won the prestigious UT System Horizon Fund Student Investment Competition prize of $100,000 and has attracted significant investor interest.

President Natalicio also acknowledged the eight UTEP faculty members who have been lauded with The University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, who were recognized last month at an event in Austin. The University of Texas System Board of Regents annually recognizes teachers for their extraordinary classroom performance and innovation in undergraduate instruction. These awards are among the most competitive nationwide and one of the nation’s largest monetary teaching recognition programs in higher education. Each honoree received a medallion, commemorative certificate, and an unrestricted cash award of $25,000.

Winning UTEP faculty members are Charles R. Boehmer, Ph.D., associate professor of political science; Ann Gabbert, Ph.D., associate director for student support and lecturer in the Entering Student Program; Gaspare M. Genna, Ph.D., associate professor of political science; John Hadjimarcou, Ph.D., professor and chair of marketing and management; Dave McIntyre, senior lecturer of art; James M. Salvador, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry; Cigdem V. Sirin, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science; and Ron Wagler, Ph.D., assistant professor of teacher education.

President Natalicio commented that for all that has already been achieved, it might be easy for UTEP to rest on its laurels, but goals are set high for the future and the University is on track to hit or surpass them on its way to Tier One status, which is the Texas equivalent of a “national research university.” Research expenditures in 2012-13 totaled just under $80 million, moving UTEP ever closer to its goal of $100 million annually dedicated to research.

Achievements in innovation and discovery span biological sciences professor Igor Almeida’s vaccine against Chagas disease ravaging Latin America; Director of Biomedical Engineering Thomas Boland and UTEP engineering graduate Laura Bosworth Bucher’s use of 3-D printing to produce skin cells for reconstructive surgeries; and Chair of Computer Science Ann Gates’ $5 million grant renewal from the National Science Foundation for the Cyber-ShARE Center of Excellence.

Among the academic milestones UTEP has attained, President Natalicio stressed the many improvements being made to the campus climate through transformation of its center, new buildings, an enhanced pedestrian environment, and new inviting outdoor spaces for studying, collaborating, and relaxing that encourage students to remain on campus longer and increase their level of engagement.

After President Natalicio’s remarks, guests were directed to the Centennial Museum for a ribbon cutting and reception celebrating the new Welcome Center. Centennial Museum Director Maribel Villalva gave a short overview of the center’s purpose as a hub for special events, educational opportunities and historical appreciation over the coming year for both the UTEP and El Paso communities.

GECU CEO Crystal Long teased at special efforts the credit union will be putting forth both on campus and throughout the local community in partnership with UTEP’s Centennial — including the giant orange cloth gift box to the right of the museum entrance, marked with a tag reading, “Don’t Open Until Sept. 23.”

Finally, UTEP Development Board Chair Tripper Goodman led a wine toast for the crowd, stating, “Here’s to UTEP’s magnificent century of service, dedication, leadership, and discovery, and to its bright future of expanding horizons through distinguished achievement over the next 100 years.”

Once the ribbon was cut, donors and special guests were able to circulate through the main floor of the museum and explore its official centennial exhibit (which will remain static through January 1, 2015), rotating exhibit space, theater, and gift shop stocked with new UTEP Centennial items.

The Centennial Welcome Center will officially open to the public at a student event and 100-day Centennial countdown kickoff at noon Monday, Sept. 23 in front of the museum.