By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
Blanca Ruiz’s passion to study biomedical sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso inspired her future career as an independent researcher and a professor.
Born and raised in Juárez, Ruiz overcame a language barrier and endured a daily commute across the international bridge to earn her bachelor’s degree in microbiology from UTEP in 2004. Like many of her fellow Miners, Ruiz also juggled her studies and a job to pay for tuition, books and living expenses.
As an international student, Ruiz was not eligible for federal, state or institutional financial aid, nor did she qualify for the University’s student research training programs that provide stipends to students who are pursuing biomedical research careers.
“I had all the requisites to become a Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) scholar at UTEP, except for my citizenship status, and I searched unsuccessfully for fellowships that did not have such a requirement,” Ruiz explained.
Now a Ph.D. candidate in pathobiology in the College of Science, Ruiz used to work part-time as a teaching assistant to pay for her education. However, her instructional responsibilities interfered with the amount of time she could spend in the lab studying the link between a receptor on T-cells and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
But a $10,000 fellowship Ruiz received from the Woman’s Auxiliary of The University of Texas at El Paso last fall has alleviated some of the financial burden and made it possible for Ruiz to concentrate full-time on her studies.
“It was very important for me to receive this award,” a grateful Ruiz said. “I felt as if my hard work was not enough. This fellowship not only provided me with much needed financial support, but it also restored my confidence. It made me believe in myself. It made me remember that what I am doing is important.”
For 90 years, The Woman’s Auxiliary of UTEP has been making dreams of a college degree come true for talented and motivated students like Ruiz by providing scholarships.
Established in 1924 as the El Paso Women’s Association of the College of Mines, the Woman’s Auxiliary of UTEP has supported generations of UTEP students through various fundraising projects, including the annual Scholarship Benefit Luncheon.
Led by Mrs. Frank H. Seamon, whose husband was head of the Chemistry Department at the Texas College of Mines (now UTEP), the association included 24 prominent El Paso women who raised funds for student loans and to help pay faculty salaries. They also supported dormitories, athletic teams and the library.
Projects included a card party that raised more than $100 to buy blankets for the Miner football team. Members also started and staffed the Pick ‘n’ Shovel cafeteria, the first campus dining facility.
The association was instrumental in organizing the school band in the late 1920s. They solicited band instruments and funds to help pay for band uniforms. They also paid for the band director’s salary.
Members also supported the construction of the Centennial Museum on campus and purchased the museum’s first two collections. They also worked to beautify and landscape the campus.
Nearly a century later, the membership of the Woman’s Auxiliary of UTEP has grown to more than 300 loyal UTEP supporters. Their fundraising efforts have raised $275,000 to support educational endeavors at the University.
In addition to scholarship support, the auxiliary was one of the first to pledge $100,000 to the University’s Centennial Campaign in 2007, an obligation they met in four years.
“Your support, your scholarships, your donations help make dreams happen,” said Keith Erekson, Ph.D., executive director of UTEP’s Centennial Celebration, during this year’s Woman’s Auxiliary luncheon on Feb. 22, which also celebrated the group’s 90th birthday. “I can tell you that everyone on campus comes with a dream – from the President down to the newest student, faculty member and staff member. (UTEP is) a wonderful place where these dreams come true, so thank you for your support.”
Popular fundraising events have included concerts by bandleader Lawrence Welk and country artist Mickey Gilley. However, one of their most successful fundraisers was an auction in 1984, which generated a profit of $28,000 and enabled the auxiliary to establish two $10,000 scholarship endowments: the Endowed Academic Scholarship and the Endowed Athletic Scholarship. Proceeds also were used to complete the Library Endowment as well as fund the customary annual scholarships.
“Our main goal is to raise scholarship money,” said Marilyn Cromeans, an auxiliary member since the 1980s. “I can remember when we were lucky to raise $5,000. In the last several years we’ve given UTEP between $20,000 and $25,000.”
In 1992, the group established The Woman’s Auxiliary of The University of Texas at El Paso Endowment Memorial Scholarship Fund. In 2011, members donated $10,000 to establish an annual fellowship for a doctoral student.
“For over 90 years, most of UTEP’s history, the Woman’s Auxiliary has been supporting the University,” said Gary Edens, Ed.D., vice president for Student Affairs. “As one of our most engaged community partners, the organization has consistently raised funds for student scholarships and been stalwart advocates for all that UTEP is doing on campus and throughout the Paso del Norte region.”
The auxiliary awarded 15 scholarships to UTEP students at this year’s benefit luncheon, which also featured a silent auction, raffle and bake sale. To qualify for a scholarship, students must be enrolled full-time and have a 3.0 G.P.A.
For auxiliary member Dana Cassolopez, the annual luncheon is more than a fundraising event; it’s also a family affair.
Cassolopez is a third generation auxiliary member. She follows in the footsteps of her mother, Marilyn Cromeans, and her grandmother Kathleen Moore, who is the group’s oldest member at 101 years old. Her grandfather is the legendary Ross Moore, a Texas College of Mines graduate who served as UTEP’s first athletic trainer. He coached football, basketball and track at the University.
“Joining the auxiliary was a natural fit for me as my grandmother Kathleen Moore was very active in the auxiliary my whole life,” Cassolopez remembers. “My favorite memory was representing the UTEP Woman’s Auxiliary as a Sun Princess in 1987. That was a lot of fun and I was proud to represent this wonderful organization!”
Membership in the Woman’s Auxiliary is open to anyone with an interest in the betterment of the University, the community, youth and society in general.