UTEP Names New Centennial Museum Director

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

UTEP welcomed Maribel Villalva as the new director of the University’s Centennial Museum and Gardens on Feb. 11. She steps in to fill the vacancy left by previous museum head W. Warner “Bill” Wood.

“Maribel has considerable museum experience and will help advance the Centennial Museum and Gardens as a campus resource focused on the natural and cultural history of the Chihuahuan Desert region," said Howard Daudistel, Ph.D., UTEP's senior executive vice president. "We are especially excited that Maribel has joined the University staff while we are planning several museum exhibits and programming focused on UTEP’s 100 years of service to the Paso del Norte region.”Maribel Villalva is the new director of UTEP’s Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News ServiceMaribel Villalva is the new director of UTEP’s Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Villalva received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from UTEP in 1997 with a minor in secondary education (specialization in journalism). Immediately after graduating, she joined the staff at the El Paso Times as an arts reporter covering the border region’s performing and visual arts. She also served as a multimedia reporter for the Times from 2004 to 2008 and was a sports and features writer at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens for Gannett News Service (then the parent company of the El Paso Times).

In a switch from her course of study and years of work experience, Villalva left the newspaper in 2008 to become executive director at the El Paso Holocaust Museum, one of only 13 free-standing Holocaust museums in the United States and the first to be established in Texas. No doubt her time in the fast-paced and often high-stress environment of daily news reporting was great preparation for running a nonprofit organization. In this position, Villalva oversaw the museum’s day-to-day operations, fundraising, coordination of local and traveling exhibits, year-round programming, and promotion of the institution and all of its activities.

Under Villalva’s charge, the Holocaust Museum flourished, celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2009, educating thousands of visitors of all ages about the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II, and becoming a solid part of Downtown’s museum district.

"The past four years as executive director of the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center have been among the most special and important years of my life," Villalva said in a release issued by the museum.

Villalva’s history of community involvement includes serving on the advisory boards of YWCA’s racial justice program and United Way’s Young Leaders Society in El Paso, volunteering as a board member for Operation Noel, and acting as race director for the El Paso Times TransMountain Challenge (a 20k and 5k race to raise funds for the newspaper’s senior fund). She is a 2012 graduate of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership El Paso program.

“As a proud UTEP graduate, I am honored to return to my alma mater as the Director of the Centennial Museum,” Villalva said. “This is an exciting time for UTEP and, as such, the museum will play a very important role during the upcoming Centennial Celebration. I hope to make the museum a focal point, not just on the UTEP campus, but in the El Paso community as well. I look forward to this new adventure.”

Villalva will guide the Centennial Museum and Gardens in its expansion as a focal point for UTEP’s 100th anniversary. The museum will host an exhibit and other events showcasing the university’s rich history for more than a year of celebratory events starting in 2013. The exhibit will rotate to cover a variety of historical topics over the centennial year and invite participation from both the campus and El Paso community. Walking tours of the campus will begin at the Centennial Museum and Gardens and establish it as a main place for learning about UTEP during the milestone celebration.

“I am thrilled that Maribel has agreed to lead the Centennial Museum on the eve of our Centennial Celebration,” said Keith Erekson, Ph.D., executive director of UTEP’s Centennial celebration. “Over the next two years I hope everyone in El Paso and beyond will visit the museum’s new exhibits about UTEP’s distinguished history and brighter future.”