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 architecture to its student population and institutional leadership, women have played an important role in the transformation and growth of UTEP from a single degree-granting mining institution to a comprehensive doctoral degree-granting university serving the Paso del Norte region.
In the early days of UTEP’s history, two women, Kathleen Worrell and Ruth Monro Augur, encouraged and supported the admission of women to the male-dominated engineering school. By 1916, two women did enroll, and one of them, Ruth Brown, went on in 1919 to become the school’s first female instructor when Worrell’s husband, Dean Steve Worrell, hired her as a chemistry assistant.
During the late 1920s, pressure from the community to expand the mining school’s curriculum to include liberal arts courses led the school to offer its first Bachelor of Arts degree in 1932. Since many families did not want to send their female children away to attend college, the pent-up demand for a regional college was apparent when the entire first B.A. graduating class consisted entirely of nine women. Ten years later, when the college offered its first Master of Arts degree, the first graduate cohort also consisted entirely of women.
Gladys Gregory, Ph.D., taught classes and was a faculty member in the political science department beginning in the late 1920s. After 23 years, she became the first woman to be promoted to full professor in 1951. During her 34 years of teaching, the University changed its name three times and had 10 different presidents.
When Gladstein asked to teach in the English Department, the chair at the time told her, “We don’t hire housewives,” and said she would need a Ph.D. from a different university.
Gladstein earned her Ph.D. and replaced the English Department chair upon his retirement. She went on to become the first director of UTEP’s Women’s Studies program in 1981.
After Thelma White’s successful challenge of Texas higher education segregation laws in 1955, it would be another 10 years before the school hired its first black instructor. In 1966, Marjorie Lawson joined the English Department as an instructor in composition and literature, and shared an office with Gladstein.
In 1974, the University received approval to offer a doctorate in geological sciences and Kathryn Evans was the first woman to earn the degree. She went on to work for the Texas Department of Transportation for more than 20 years.
Evans joked that being the first woman to receive a Ph.D. at UTEP has been a slight source of agitation.
“I should have been the first person with a Ph.D., but Gary (Massingill) beat me to it because he was off writing while I was off working.”
Today, more and more UTEP students like Evans are working while studying. One of those students is Mireya A. Perez, a research administrator for UTEP’s W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation. Perez is a second-generation UTEP graduate and was the first student to earn an M.S. in biomedical engineering.
She credited her parents, both engineers, with inspiring her. They earned their M.B.A.s at night while working as engineers during the day.
Her mother, Rosaura Corral-Perez, was originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, and was the first in her family to graduate from college. Corral-Perez continued her education while her parents watched Mireya and her brothers. Corral-Perez, the Boeing El Paso site director, said self-confidence and a strong support system are responsible for her success.
While UTEP’s Centennial Celebration is winding down, its president, Diana Natalicio, will be entering her 28th year in that role, making her one of the longest serving presidents of a public four-year research university in the United States, male or female. She is the first former UTEP faculty member to achieve that rank, in addition to being the second female president in The University of Texas System, and the longest serving female university president in Texas.
“UTEP is committed to its students’ success by achieving affordability and high quality,” President Natalicio said. “That commitment ensures that students who aspire to achieve the American Dream not only have the opportunity to pursue it, but to participate in enriched educational experiences that will prepare them upon graduation to compete successfully with their peers from across the globe.”