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Housing grows with student population

Willie Quinn is a UTEP alumni who has been volunteering at the UTEP Heritage House, the campus’ historical repository, since 2001. He runs his finger along a long laminated map, “This is how Vet Village fits into the scheme of things,” Quinn said.

The map spans almost the entirety of the orange wall it rests upon. With it’s long black horizontal lines, the map looks like a complex family tree, recounting the birth and death of UTEP buildings.

“Twenty trailers were constructed in ‘46 and 18 duplexes in ‘47,” Quinn said, as he recounted the construction of one the first family housing complexes on campus known
as Vet Village.

“The whole thing was torn down and that site was eventually used for Burges, Barry and Kelly Halls,” Quinn said. 

Also known as Trailer Town, Vet Village was composed of 20 trailers that were built after World War II. The site opened for occupancy to 20 veterans and their families on June 1, 1946. 

“Vet Village was a bunch of quasi huts, trailers and metal sheds,” said Charlie Gibbens, director of housing.

The trailers were equipped with electricity and cooking facilities, along with a community house in the middle of the area that was used as a bathing facility.

“The Vet Village housing, humble as it might have been, made it possible for me to attend Texas Western College and was much appreciated as it was by all residents there,” said Harry Lamberth, 1962 alumni. “The community was very quiet, with all families concentrating on the business at hand of finishing school.”

UTEP housing has come a long way since Vet Village, when rent was $30 per month, and when a dozen wives, dressed in bathrobes and towels, marched to the president’s house in order to call attention to getting the heater in the bathhouse fixed after it had frozen.

Before and after Vet Village, UTEP housing has fluctuated and moved to different places and buildings over the years. Among these was the opening of the first dormitory for men in 1917 and the gender-segregated Barry and Kelly Halls in the ‘70s to what is now known as Miner Village and Miner Heights.

The establishment of Miner Village in 2001 brought with it a new direction in student housing focused on enhancing the on-campus student experience beyond providing a mattress to sleep on.

“Now our focus is on helping the students be successful academically,” Gibbens said.

According to a study done by Rice University, “while many factors influence a student’s level of academic engagement, the single most important environmental factor identified in previous research is living on campus in a residence hall.”

The notion that on-campus living could be essential for the growth and development of a student is something that staff at UTEP housing does not take lightly. The department tries to do this by creating weekly programs for students to attend, exposing them to resources on campus and building community, among other efforts. 

“The people that work here (residence life) need to get it, get the fact that the programs and the work that we do here in the residence halls is just as important as the curriculum that you get in the classroom,” said Rosa Sandoval, residence
life coordinator.

So far, the emphasis on building the student on-campus experience has resulted in full occupancy
every semester.

“We’ve seen the demand for housing go up. The last three years, we’ve opened at about 103-104 percent occupancy,” Gibbens said. “We’ve had several hundreds of applications of people that we’ve not been able to accommodate.”

While living on campus might be the ideal situation, it is not always the most economical one.

Tajei Harper, sophomore history major, lived on campus for a year before deciding to move out in order to save money.

“I’m saving a lot of money. I have a little more privacy opposed to a little dorm, where it had a lot of rules such as quiet hours,” Harper said.

 When living on campus Harper, along with three other roommates, paid $510 a month for a four-bedroom apartment. Now he lives in an off-campus apartment and pays $160 along with two other roommates.

“The benefits I got on campus is you’re in a neighborhood full of UTEP students, you interact with other people in school as opposed to living off campus,” Harper said.

Most of the UTEP’s students commute to school everyday from home. Only about 2.7 percent of the UTEP student population lives on campus, a figure residence life is hoping to bump to 10 percent by the time the student population reaches 30,000.

To accommodate this growth, residence life is beginning construction of a new housing complex set to open in fall of 2015.

“What we’re building right now, it’s called housing phase three, is the first of four to five phases that are looking to go out in the northern portion of campus out near the student rec center,” Gibbens said. “We’re looking to put a really large student community…and bring more of a residential feel back to the university.”

Overall, the construction of the new housing complex marks a time of change and excitement for the Department of Residence Life.

“We’re about to enter a new era and I think that building the new student housing is a part of that, it’s a new phase for UTEP. We’re preparing ourselves for what’s next,” said Fabian Barragan, student assistant at Miner Heights.

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected].

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Housing grows with student population