UTEP Celebrates Centennial with 180,000 Local School Children

Last Updated on October 16, 2014 at 8:59 am

Originally published October 10, 2014

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

On Friday, Oct. 3, faculty, staff, students and alumni volunteers took the UTEP Centennial Celebration to local schools for tens of thousands of children to join in the fun while getting them committed to a college education.

The UTEP Celebrates mega-outreach effort had been in the works since January with personnel and departments around the University involved in its planning and execution. The organizers knew they had a significant feat on their hands.

Schoolchildren join Paydirt Pete in a "Picks Up" gesture as part of the UTEP Celebrates event that happened Friday, Oct. 3. Photo by UTEP News Service

Schoolchildren join Paydirt Pete in a “Picks Up” gesture as part of the UTEP Celebrates event that happened Friday, Oct. 3. Photo by UTEP News Service

UTEP Vice President for Student Affairs Gary Edens, Ed.D., wanted the event to spread a message that urged students to dream big and continue their education beyond high school. While everyone involved had the highest of hopes beforehand, no one predicted such positive feedback.

“Celebrating UTEP’s Centennial with over 180,000 children at 260 schools was quite the logistical challenge, but it paid off when our 1,230 UTEP volunteers saw the excitement and energy at each school,” Edens said.

Director of Student Life Nicole Aguilar said, “We all represented UTEP and were on the same mission: create awareness, share the importance of going to college and celebrate our Centennial. I know it also meant something to represent such a wide range of future academic and professional paths to these students. It’s amazing how we all have our own personal stories and diverse backgrounds, yet on Oct. 3, we came together to share the same message, and we succeeded.”

Participating schools spanned 12 districts in TEA Region 19 over 5,095 square miles. The biggest school in terms of student enrollment was El Dorado High School at 2,820 while the smallest was El Paso Bridges Academy with 52 students. The furthest school from UTEP to receive a visit was Dell City School, 93.6 miles away from the University’s campus.

Each school received at least one and as many as eight 30-minute presentations that opened students’ minds to the multitude of educational opportunities offered by El Paso’s university. Audience participation games, impromptu cheerleading, special guests, trivia contests, giveaways and much more tailored to each group of children made every presentation unique.

Teachers and staff at the schools who graduated from UTEP received special recognition during the presentation. Volunteers then enlightened children about their own experiences as employees, students and educators. Alumni who signed up to take the UTEP Celebrates message back to their old schools or to campuses attended by their children talked about how UTEP or college in general helped them to achieve their goals.

Each school also added a twist, emphasizing in their own ways the importance of going to college and how UTEP’s many achievements over the past 100 years had application to kids from pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade.

For Associate Dean of Students Ryan Holmes, Ed.D., witnessing the impact that UTEP has on the community firsthand was most powerful.

“Gaining a better understanding of the number of alumni in the community while also helping youth to understand what it means to go to college serves as a reminder that UTEP gives us all a chance to make a difference,” he said.

Holmes was not the only one surprised by the positive energy with which volunteer teams were greeted with at every school.

“I honestly did not know what to expect upon arriving, but seeing how ready the entire student body and administration were for our visit was exciting. Before even being introduced, students were chanting ‘UTEP’ so loudly that PE coaches had to blow their whistles to get their attention,” Aguilar said, noting that most schools gave students the choice to wear orange, which they did in abundance.

As a district leader and school presenter himself, Director of the Student Engagement and Leadership Center (SELC) Corey Bailey categorized UTEP Celebrates as the largest undertaking he had ever been a part of.

“And I’ve planned large events,” he said. “This is beyond Minerpalooza.”

Major challenges included the communication needed to pull it off, not only between UTEP and local schools but also within the university as volunteer teams were recruited and prepped. District leaders like Aguilar, Bailey and Holmes were charged with ensuring every school among the dozens in their district was matched with a team, then making sure those team leaders stayed in contact with their school to sort out bag distribution, audio and visual needs, presentation times and school rules.

Team leaders were then responsible for communicating all of the above to their volunteer group, setting up rehearsals before Oct. 3 and rallying the troops for action.

“This project proved just how important communication, teamwork, organization, dependability and partnerships truly are,” Aguilar said. 

Students enjoyed a University Centennial video created specifically for UTEP Celebrates, favoring different parts based on the demographic. Younger children cheered at the appearance of Paydirt Pete while older ones screamed at the sight of boy band One Direction, who performed at the Sun Bowl in September. Students also were excited to receive a gift for UTEP’s birthday: a blue drawstring bag that says “UTEP.”

Aguilar also served as a team leader for Glen Cove Elementary so that she could present at her daughter’s school.

“It was so rewarding to be able to stand in a room full of her peers and have her be in the audience while I represented UTEP in this way on this special occasion,” Aguilar said. “I saw her eyes light up and in that moment, I knew how proud she was of me. Every day, I tell her I’m proud of her, but that one moment when our roles reversed was a very powerful experience as a parent.”

Using the hashtag #UTEPCelebrates, hundreds of volunteers chronicled their presentations throughout the El Paso area on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

A photo gallery showcasing special stops made by President Diana Natalicio and Paydirt Pete at Canutillo Elementary School, El Paso High School and Hillcrest Middle School can be viewed here.

UTEP President Diana Natalicio visited three schools during the day. Canutillo Elementary presented her with a pen set, mug and shirt all emblazoned with the school’s logo. While exiting the cafeteria after her presentation, the entire school lined up in the hallways to give her high fives as they chanted, “Let’s go Miners!”

A young student smiles as he holds up a UTEP Miners banner. Photo by UTEP News Service

A young student smiles as he holds up a UTEP Miners banner. Photo by UTEP News Service

El Paso High School shared a giant birthday cake lit with candles, which President Natalicio blew out at the end of her presentation for the students there.

Photos from visits made to Socorro Independent School District campuses, which took place on Sept. 25, can be viewed here.

Given that “seeing is believing” for most children, UTEP Celebrates organizers were hoping to show the young students proof that they could go to college via the diverse range of volunteers who presented.

“I also believe that UTEP Celebrates helped the children embrace their identities while understanding that there are no limits to what they can achieve,” Holmes said.

Aguilar’s team created a star for every student at their elementary school, asking each child to write their name on it in a pledge to go to college. Since Oct. 3, every student’s star has been hung on a wall in the school where they will remain on display. “I can’t think of a better way to assess this event than with powerful images like that,” Aguilar said.

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