Centennial Contest Shines Light on Miner M

By Daniel Perez

UTEP News Service

During his weekly run up Sun Bowl Drive, Andrew Velasquez would gaze at the fabled “M” on the hill and be reminded of the generations of students who have been part of The University of Texas at El Paso story.

As UTEP continues its march toward its 100th anniversary in 2014, Velasquez and others have an opportunity to write their own chapter in the school’s history through a contest that could enhance the “M” for decades to come.Organizers of the “EmPower the M” project include, from left, Ralph Martinez, Ph.D., director of energy initiatives with the Regional Cyber and Energy Security Center, and UTEP graduate research assistants Theresa Provencio, Pamela Valdez and Pablo Rangel. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceOrganizers of the “EmPower the M” project include, from left, Ralph Martinez, Ph.D., director of energy initiatives with the Regional Cyber and Energy Security Center, and UTEP graduate research assistants Theresa Provencio, Pamela Valdez and Pablo Rangel. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

Velasquez, a senior economics and finance major, is interested in the “EmPower the M” project that is accepting letters of intent through Nov. 9. The teams, which can have up to four members, will prepare feasibility studies on ways to illuminate, sustain and secure the letter for around $75,000.

This real-world project will involve mentors, workshops and ingenuity. The winning team, which will be announced in late February 2013, will earn a $2,000 award from UTEP’s Student Government Association. If funding is secured, construction could begin in May 2013 and be finished three months later.

“I want to give back to this University and this is a unique way to do it,” said Velasquez, an El Paso native who graduated from Mountain View High School in 2009. He has been a Miner Ambassador, served on the SGA and Business College Council, and is a member of Delta Sigma Pi fraternity and the Beta Alpha Psi business honor society. He thinks his expertise in cost analysis could be helpful. “I think if they can light a star on the mountain, we can light the ‘M’ on our mountain.”

This green energy project, which is part of the University’s Centennial Celebration, was started by UTEP’s Regional Cyber and Energy Security (RCES) Center. The goal is for students to design a system that uses LEDs, batteries, and solar photovoltaics to illuminate the "M" nightly, except during national and state events that require campus flags be flown at half-staff. The letter, 104-feet tall and 103-feet wide with legs 15-feet across, was painted on the hill just north of the Sun Bowl in 1966. A previous M was painted on the Franklin Mountains near Scenic Drive in 1923.

University mentors and workshops led by UTEP’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers chapter will help students refine their ideas that will include sustainability, security and a plan that would allow for the traditional St. Patrick’s Day whitewashing of the M without damaging the lighting system. The contest is aimed at engineers — civil, electrical, systems, and environmental – but teams can benefit from the inclusion of other majors such as business and communication, as well as anyone with common sense and management skills, said Pablo Rangel, an RCES Center doctoral research associate.

“(The teams) should treat this as if it were a National Science Foundation proposal,” Rangel said. “It must be very detailed.”

The student feasibility study is a wonderful addition to the Centennial Celebration, said Keith Erekson, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and the celebration’s executive director.

“This is a great project that builds on a UTEP tradition that is part of our heritage,” he said.

Among other students who plan to enter the contest is Elliott Gurrola, a computer engineering graduate student who earned his bachelor’s in electrical and computer engineering from UTEP in 2011. The native of Durango, Mexico, recalled helping to whitewash the letter as a senior during the annual Texas College of Mines Day in March.

“It was a great experience because the M represents our origins and adds to the college atmosphere. I think it would be amazing to be able to light the M for (UTEP) and for El Paso,” Gurrola said. While he would appreciate the financial prize, he said the bigger honor would be his role in University history. “I could look at the (lighted) M and tell others I was part of that project. That’s the real reward.”

For contest information, visit http://minerm.utep.edu.