Originally published May 4, 2016
By Laura L. Acosta
It’s been 40 years since Nursing Professor Maria Amaya, Ph.D., graduated from The University of Texas at El Paso’s first baccalaureate nursing program in 1976.
At the time, the school was known as the College of Nursing. Classes were taught in the Campbell Building in downtown El Paso, and Eileen Jacobi, the college’s first dean, was El Paso’s first doctorally prepared nurse.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” recalled Amaya, who has been a faculty member at the University for 35 years. “No matter the passage of time, one always feels proud, not just of being a nurse, but a UTEP nurse. You are one of the best.”
Amaya was among 200 guests at the School of Nursing’s “40th Anniversary: Legacy of Healing,” celebration in April, the first of several events planned throughout 2016 to commemorate the school’s exceptional contributions to health care in the region.
During National Nurses Week from May 6-12, Las Palmas and Del Sol medical centers, the Hospitals of Providence East Campus and Sierra Campus, and University Medical Center will co-host festivities with the School of Nursing to reconnect faculty members with former students and raise awareness about the new UTEP School of Nursing Alumni Association.
The school boasts 4,500 alumni, and more than 60 percent of El Paso nurses earned their degrees at UTEP.
In conjunction with the yearlong celebration, UTEP has also launched a campaign to raise $400,000 for the school by the end of the year.
Since joining UTEP in 1976, the College of Nursing has gone through several name changes. It settled on the UTEP School of Nursing, often abbreviated as SON, in 2006.
Today, the SON is housed in the state-of-the-art Health Sciences and Nursing Building on campus, and Elias Provencio-Vasquez, Ph.D., the school’s dean, was the first Hispanic male in the United States to earn a doctoral degree in nursing.
“We’ve come a long way!” remarked Provencio-Vasquez, eliciting cheers from alumni, students, faculty, staff and community partners at the anniversary kickoff.
“Today we graduate more than 400 students a year and the vast majority stay in El Paso,” he said. “If you’ve been to the hospital, a doctor’s office or clinic in the region, most likely a UTEP nurse took care of you. We are very proud of our Miner nurses.”
The roots of the School of Nursing date back to 1898 when the Hotel Dieu Training School for Nurses – El Paso’s first nursing school – opened. In 1970, the school was sold to The University of Texas System and it became one of the six schools in The University of Texas Nursing School System. In 1976, the nursing school system disbanded and the school became part of UTEP.
Interim UTEP Provost Howard Daudistel, Ph.D., referred to the milestone as a very important step in the University’s history.
“Building on the collaboration with Hotel Dieu, UTEP nursing has played a tremendous role in the Paso del Norte region when it comes to providing high quality nursing,” Daudistel said. “I’m delighted our (nursing) graduates have made a commitment to remain in the region and provide for the health care needs of the population.”
The SON continues to lead nursing education by offering innovative programs enhanced by experienced faculty, strong clinical partnerships and simulation technology. As it enters a new decade, the school also will emphasize research to address global health, chronic disease management, health disparities and geriatric intervention, Provencio-Vasquez said.
While mariachis played in the background, several guests were recorded on video congratulating the school for the difference it has made in the community during the past 40 years.
Robert Jacob Cintron, chief operating officer of Del Sol Medical Center, said the School of Nursing has educated great nurses who provide great patient care.
“Students coming out of the nursing program are amazing,” said Cintron, a UTEP graduate and a member of the SON’s advisory board. “As I get older, this will be the next generation that will be taking care of me. I’m very proud to be aligned with the School of Nursing.”
The festivities also were an opportunity for students to mingle with past and present faculty.
Nicole Wheeler, president of the Texas Nurses Student Association (TNSA) chapter at UTEP, met Helen Castillo, Ph.D., a graduate from the University of Texas Nursing School System and a faculty member in the College of Nursing. Castillo also served as chair of the UTEP nursing program when it was part of the College of Nursing and Allied Health.
“It’s a marvelous school with marvelous students,” Castillo said. “Forty years is a great accomplishment.”
A native of New Hampshire, Wheeler said her classmates and professors helped to make UTEP her new home. The School of Nursing also made it possible for her to give back to the community by volunteering with the TNSA.
“Moving from New Hampshire to El Paso straight out of high school is scary, and not knowing anyone was very difficult,” Wheeler said. “The UTEP School of Nursing allowed me to become a part of a community and introduced me to a new, better, version of myself through various opportunities.”
For more information about the UTEP School of Nursing, visit nursing.utep.edu/utepfacts.