Editor’s note: The following is part of a weekly series commemorating the University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Celebration in 2014.
From its beginnings as an engineering school in 1914, The University of Texas at El Paso has remained at the forefront of employing computing technology for both administrative and academic purposes.
The first true computer arrived at UTEP — then Texas Western College — in 1958 when the research arm of the school took delivery of a 950-pound Bendix G-15 to be used for defense-related research. That same year, the engineering and drawing department — predecessor of the computer science department — began offering three courses on computers and computer circuitry.
As punch card technology became widespread throughout the 1960s, the school began using sorting machines to aid with students’ class registration.
In 1967, the University renovated the third floor of Old Main to house the school’s first true computer center, which was made available to faculty, staff and students. The mainframe, a Control Data 3100 computer that cost $500,000, included a new air conditioning system to cool the several-ton behemoth. In 1970, the registrar took advantage of this computer to generate class schedules for students during registration.
By 1975, computer technology reached the library, where it was used to access an information technology network of 500 universities sharing bibliographic information and facilitating interlibrary exchanges of books and journals.
With personal computers becoming popular toward the end of the decade, students formed the first UTEP computer science club in 1979, exploring computer use outside of the University’s mainframe system.
Early computer networking took place in the 1970s when UTEP’s electrical engineering department explored the power and potential of systems that predated the Internet.
As computers began appearing rapidly across campus, the University took measures for greater connectivity.
In 1990, work began on a fiber optic cable network between buildings and offices providing each faculty and staff member with their own UTEP email address.
Perhaps the most significant information technology breakthrough at UTEP came in 1995 when the University wired the entire campus for networked computers. In the fall of 1995, every student enrolled at UTEP received both an email and Internet access account. UTEP’s online presence began in October 1996, when the University’s first website went live on the Internet.
Computing’s impact on education has also evolved from a small program in Computer Science, approved by the Board of Regents in 1982, to a campus where virtually every educational activity is supported by computing technology.
Computerization has supported the growth of online courses and the development of UTEP Connect, a suite of fully online degree programs slated to launch in summer 2015, that will further expand UTEP’s online degree options and reach student populations unable to attend classes on campus.
It’s a far cry from 1914, when the first group of students enrolled at the School of Mines and Metallurgy who needed to take an English writing course did so through mail correspondence with the then-University of Texas main branch in Austin.
“In the 33 years I have been at UTEP, computing has grown from a handful of small systems used to manage the budget and schedule classes to a large integrated system which supports every aspect of campus life,” said Stephen Riter, Ph.D., vice president of information resources and planning.
Computing also plays a major role in research. UTEP’s Research Computing Cloud is one of the most powerful research computing facilities in the Southwest and is connected via a dedicated lightning-fast network to the Texas Advanced Computer Center in Austin, one of the largest computer facilities in the world.
The University charges toward the future with work now being done on new mobile applications, 3-D technologies, interactive design, immersive environments, social media and software development.
Addressing this new frontier, Associate Director of Academic Technologies Steven Varela said, “The potential for how technology can be used in higher education is wide open, and I know UTEP will continue to be a leader in exploring and expanding its use in teaching, learning and research.”
Lisa Garibay is a writer in UTEP's Office of University Communications.