Raul Barberena

Classes at UTEP started 100 years ago today

By on September 28, 2014

Finding out more about the first day of class in 1914 at the State School of Mines and Metallurgy, now The University of Texas at El Paso, was a research project with its own story.

In 2013, P.J. Vierra, researcher for UTEP’s Centennial Office and managing editor of the university’s online encyclopedia — encyclopedia.utep.edu — browsed through historical documents and articles to confirm the number of students who attended the first day of class.

Rather than merely confirming the number of students, Vierra discovered new artifacts that led to the discovery of the correct first date of classes.

“We were reading the account of the first day of school, which was published Wednesday, Sept. 30, 1914, and a line in that article said, ‘School began on Monday,'” Vierra recounted. “This meant school could not have started on Sept. 23, as previously thought, because Sept. 23 was a Wednesday in 1914. If school started on a Monday, this meant it started Sept. 28.”

On that Monday, 21 students walked onto the El Paso Military Institute campus, east of Fort Bliss, for their first day of class. Students met their classmates for the first time and 11 of the students participated in football practice in the afternoon. The first cohort of students who graduated three years later in 1917 would eventually total 27.

“There is a fun part of history and a sort of detective work that goes into it, as you are finding clues and tracing evidence and you are synthesizing that evidence to uncover new meaning,” Vierra explained. “Through our diligent research we found these other documents that were able to shed new light on our first day of classes.”

One of the additional documents was a letter in The University of Texas at Austin’s archives written by the school’s first dean, Steve Worrell, dated Sept. 22, 1914, which stated, “Registration begins tomorrow.” Vierra also found other documents stating UT Austin began Sept. 28 and opened for registration Sept. 23.

Much like today, the campus had an international student body. The majority of the students were from Texas, but others came from New Mexico, Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama and Pennsylvania, as well as Mexico.

Raul Barberena was among the first cohort of students. He was from Mexico and in 1914, he became the first Hispanic instructor in The University of Texas System when Worrell hired him to teach Spanish. Barberena later returned to Mexico as a geologist for a large oil company, but drowned in a swimming accident in 1920 at the age of 26.

Student assistant in chemistry Vere Leasure graduated with Barberena and later returned to teach at the Texas School of Mines. Several more graduates, as Worrell envisioned, went on to work for mining operations throughout the Paso del Norte region.

Worell was not only a dean; he taught mining and metallurgy as well. Other instructors of note were Arthur K. Adams and H.D. Pallister, professors of geology and coal mining, and F.H. Seamon, professor of chemistry and assaying.

Over the past century, El Paso has witnessed the transformation of that small, regional mining school into an internationally recognized and comprehensive doctoral research institution serving the Paso del Norte region. Today, UTEP’s mission of affordable and accessible education has contributed to its recognition among the Top Ten universities in the nation as ranked by Washington Monthly magazine.

Jessica Molinar Muñoz works in UTEP’s Centennial Celebration office.

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