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 and the U.S. military have benefited from each other’s presence in the region during the past 100 years.
Many UTEP graduates serve on military bases as civilian employees or are in the armed services, while almost 1,700 military-affiliated students — active duty, reservists, veterans and their family members — are currently enrolled in University courses on the UTEP campus or online.
UTEP’s relationship with the military began in 1914 when the school acquired the property of the former El Paso Military Institute adjacent to Fort Bliss. After the campus relocated to its current site in 1918, the school provided support through the training of military personnel during both World Wars.
Following the conclusion of World War II, the College of Mines continued its relationship by building Vet Village, a housing community for veterans and their families consisting of military surplus buildings set up where Burges and Barry halls now stand; the creation of the ROTC program in 1949; and the recent establishment of UTEP’s simulation lab to hone the skills of William Beaumont Army Medical Center nursing personnel.
Retired Maj. Gen. James Maloney, Fort Bliss commander from 1982-85, recalled studying early radar systems as part of his ROTC studies at Texas Western College, now UTEP, in the early 1950s. The 1954, civil engineering graduate said the course was related to Fort Bliss being home to the Army’s antiaircraft artillery branch at the time.
“(The Army) already was looking ahead to missiles,” said Maloney, a West Side resident and UTEP’s 1983 Distinguished Alumni award recipient. He said the ROTC faculty often would invite soldiers to speak to their classes, and in turn, the cadets were invited to Fort Bliss to experience military life. “UTEP was tuned in to the Army. There are significant connections between the two and it’s mutually beneficial.”
Because of continuous duty rotations that take soldiers and their families away from El Paso for weeks to months at a time or a new assignment across the country or around the world, post leaders, who promote education throughout their ranks, worked with UTEP faculty to develop online coursework to enable soldiers and their spouses to continue their studies uninterrupted.
Among UTEP’s first degree plans created with the military in mind was the Master of Leadership Studies that has been offered since fall 2009 to students enrolled in the U.S. Army academies for junior officers and senior non-commissioned officers. It converted a face-to-face course into online classes that could be completed in two years, or one year if the soldier also was enrolled in one of the academies.
“I have the best of both worlds as a soldier at Fort Bliss and a student at UTEP,” said 2nd Lt. Joseph Estalilla, a first-year graduate student in UTEP’s Intelligence and National Security Studies program. “UTEP made it easy for me to transition to the campus.”
The University has taken a proactive role to assist and support military-affiliated students who want to achieve their academic goals. They can drop in UTEP’s satellite office at Fort Bliss or visit the campus Military Student Success Center (MSSC), a one-stop shop that can offer guidance in all aspects along the education path, such as how to use military benefits and tuition discount packages.
Mike Smith, Ph.D., vice provost and dean of UTEP’s Extended University, which has oversight of the MSSC, said he is getting positive feedback from military leaders about UTEP’s efforts during the past few years to enhance its outreach and services for those in the military. He said part of the reason is the stronger bonds he has helped build with post officials.
“That has served us well,” Smith said. “It further solidified the relationship between UTEP and Fort Bliss. We’re engaged in ways that we had not been before. We’ve really broadened our mission and our reach on campus dramatically in the last two years and that’s a win-win.”
Daniel Perez is a senior writer in UTEP's Office of University Communications.