UTEP began with El Paso

By on March 30, 2014

Editor’s note: The following is part of a weekly series commemorating The University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Celebration in 2014.

The University of Texas at El Paso has transformed itself over the past 100 years to meet the growing and changing needs of the Paso del Norte community, and the intertwined history of the school and the city means UTEP’s celebration is El Paso’s celebration.

UTEP’s unique story begins in the early 1900s with Texas’ booming mining industry. Located at the intersection of four major rail lines, El Paso was an ideal place for a mining school. However, it would take a decade of the El Paso community’s persistence and perseverance to bring a university to the city.

From 1903 to 1913, El Paso’s delegates submitted a total of three petitions to the Texas Legislature seeking to open a school of mines in the city. The first two petitions were unsuccessful, but in 1913, Sen. Claude Hudspeth introduced Senate Bill 183 calling for the establishment of a mining school in El Paso.

After three months of lobbying, Rep. Richard F. Burgess, the chairman of the House Mining Committee, convinced the House to support the bill.

One condition of the bill required the City of El Paso to provide both the land and buildings for the school, which was to be a part of the University of Texas system. Prevented by its charter from funding the school, the City of El Paso looked to the Chamber of Commerce to step in. The Chamber of Commerce board held a series of meetings and later voted to purchase the property and facilities east of Fort Bliss formerly used as the El Paso Military Institute.

The purchase price for the land was $50,000 (nearly $1.2 million in today’s dollars), which was to be paid over 10 years, provided that enough El Pasoans would agree to serve as cosigners for the loan. Eighty citizens came forward and pledged to step in financially should the Chamber not be able to make the annual payments.

When a fire destroyed the main building of the State School of Mines and Metallurgy October 29, 1916, school and civic leaders elected to relocate the institution. A committee composed of Burgess, El Paso Mayor Tom Lea and Hudspeth and School of Mines Dean Steve Worrell selected a site for the school located at the western foothills of the Franklin Mountains near Kern Place.

The site was a gift from prominent El Paso builder and real estate investor Vernon E. Ware along with H.T. Ware, W. Cooley, J.C. Rous Jr. and A.S. Valdespino.

El Paso laid out the foundation for a successful mining school, and the investment in the community’s future and education has paid off.

Today, what started as a mining school with 27 students has evolved into an emerging research university with more than 23,000 students ranked No. 1 by Washington Monthly magazine in social mobility (defined as recruiting and graduating low-income students) and No. 7 overall.

To honor this relationship, UTEP will open its campus to the public for three days beginning April 10. Activities are scheduled from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., April 11 and 12.

“I think most people who don’t get to come on campus very often will be surprised and astounded at the state-of-the-art buildings and facilities we have and the innovations that have taken place on this campus,” said Patricia Witherspoon, Ph.D., lead organizer of the Open House and dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Free parking will be available in the Sun Bowl and Schuster parking garages, and there will be free shuttle service each day.

For more information, visit UTEP100Years.com/OpenHouse.

Jessica Molinar-Muñoz works in UTEP’s Centennial Celebration office. P.J. Vierra contributed to this story.

Published on 03/30/2014 at http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_25451273/utep-began-el-paso

Jessica Molinar Muñoz is the director of communications for UTEP's Centennial Office.