New Year Signals More, Bigger Centennial Celebration Activities

By on January 9, 2014

With the singing of “Auld Lang Syne” (days gone by) and most of the holiday decorations put away, organizers of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Celebration are serious about lighting the candles on this once-in-a-lifetime party.The University’s 100th birthday festivities had a soft opening in April 2013 – the centennial of when state leaders authorized the creation of the school. A blowout in Austin, numerous blog entries, the unveiling of celebratory merchandise and a Centennial countdown laid the foundation for this year’s events, which will only increase in number and scope as we head into fall.

Keith Erekson, Ph.D., executive director of the University’s Centennial Office, said celebration coordinators are ramping up the number and scope of activities taking place on campus and throughout the community to recognize UTEP’s 100th birthday throughout 2014. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Keith Erekson, Ph.D., executive director of the University’s Centennial Celebration, said celebration coordinators are ramping up the number and scope of activities taking place on campus and throughout the community to recognize UTEP’s 100th birthday throughout 2014. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

For example, in the first few days of 2014, the University launched a weekly series in the El Paso Times that will continue the rest of the year, and promoted the Centennial Celebration during the Jan. 9 men’s basketball game featuring a student-focused halftime UTEP birthday bash at the Don Haskins Center.

Upcoming activities include a proclamation from El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser recognizing the University for its 100-year history and its contributions to the region during the Jan. 14 El Paso City Council meeting. Later in January, the University plans to set up three Bhutanese-style kiosks at the El Paso International Airport adorned with text and images to highlight UTEP’s past, present and future.

These are only a few examples of the activities on campus and throughout the community carrying the Centennial spirit, said Keith Erekson, Ph.D., executive director of the University’s Centennial Celebration.

“We’re all coming together to celebrate UTEP,” said Erekson, adding that many Sun City events will have a Centennial tie-in, including business conferences, fun runs and El Paso Pro-Musica concerts. “Our list of activities will be growing and growing, so stay tuned. We’re adding stuff all the time.”

One example of the campus-community partnerships is the Jan. 25 birthday celebration at the Centennial Museum. It is a collaboration with the Junior League of El Paso (JLEP), which is celebrating its 80th birthday this year. One of JLEP’s first major community projects was to support the fledgling museum in 1936. The event will include birthday cake and UTEP coloring books geared toward children in kindergarten through third grade.

Isabel White, JLEP president, said her organization has a long history of working with the University to improve the community’s quality of life, especially in the areas of arts, athletics and scholarships. JLEP’s involvement in the Jan. 25 event is part of an effort to revisit past projects during its Ruby Jubilee.

People who want to learn more about the history of the University’s distinctive Bhutanese architecture may attend a presentation led by Max Grossman, Ph.D., assistant professor of art history, at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, in the Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts auditorium. It is the second of 10 planned walking tours designed for the Centennial highlighting different aspects of the University including its history and cutting-edge research.

Grossman, an architectural historian, said he has spent approximately 150 hours researching the topic and preparing a talk that will include a richly illustrated 45-minute PowerPoint presentation followed by an approximately half-hour tour of the campus’ four oldest buildings – Old Main, Quinn, Graham and Prospect halls. The talk will focus on the years 1917 through 1921.

He said he looks forward to sharing newly discovered correspondence between leaders of the city, the College of Mines and the University of Texas System revealing that the decision to use Bhutanese architecture was a controversial one.

“The story behind the architecture is more nuanced and fascinating than most people realize,” Grossman said. “A lot of the stuff I’ll be discussing has never been presented before.”

Grossman will make the same presentation to UTEP faculty, staff and students at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, at the Rubin Center. Reservations for the tours are required and can be made through the Texas Trost Society at For more tour information, call Maribel Villalva, director of the Centennial Museum and Welcome Center, at 915-747-6669.

One of the more visual campus events this month is the opening of the Pickaxe Art display at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 27, in the Union Gallery on the second floor of Union Building East. Twelve acclaimed artists – 11 professionals with ties to the University and one UTEP student – were asked last October to create a memorable piece of art out of a blank, 5-foot tall fiberglass pickaxe sculpture. The art will be on display through Jan. 30 and will then be distributed throughout the community before it returns to UTEP to be set up around campus.

Erekson also pointed to a special campuswide open house April 11-13 that will celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the announcement by the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce on April 13, 1914, that it had raised the necessary $50,000 to start the State School of Mines.

Students, staff and faculty from throughout the University will showcase their talents and accomplishments in the areas of arts, academics and research. There will be tours, lectures, exhibits, performances and demonstrations at various indoor and outdoor sites. The University plans shut down Wiggins Road from the University Library to the Centennial Museum to accommodate the various outdoor activities.

“We’re inviting the community back to show them what we’ve accomplished with $50,000 and 100 years,” Erekson said. “We want them to see what we’ve done together with their help.”

He said the spring and summer events will whet the appetites for the fall semester’s special editions of Minerpalooza (UTEP’s back-to-school bash), Homecoming and the official opening of Centennial Plaza, the large, open grassy area lined with native mesquite shade trees and surrounded by a multi-textured paseo. The pedestrian-friendly campus core will be a lasting legacy of the yearlong celebration.

“There’ll be no time to rest in September and October,” Erekson said. “Our activities will be special and add to the city’s quality of life. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

To get the most up to date Centennial information, visit,,, or

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Daniel Perez is a senior writer in UTEP's Office of University Communications.