O’Hearn ready for new beginnings in El Paso


Sergio Muñoz

College of Liberal Arts is hosting a 50th anniversary celebration event with a chance to meet the new Liberal Arts Denis O’Hearn on Sept. 6. at the Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall.

Oscar Avila, Contributor

This fall semester, the College of Liberal Arts welcomes a new dean, Dr. Denis O’Hearn. Born and raised in Carlsbad, New Mexico, Dr. O’Hearn went around the world before he found his new home in El Paso.

“I was a first-generation student, and I did have two older brothers who had been to universities, so that made me fairly open about what I wanted to do,” Dr. O’Hearn said. “This is one thing I love about the U.S. university system is that it gives people the possibility to figure out what they want to do.”

It goes to show because he boasts four degrees, three of which came from the University of New Mexico: a bachelor’s in economics in 1975, a master’s in Russian & Eastern European Studies in 1978, and in sociology in 1985. Three years later, he earned his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

His vast education would grant him the opportunity to study and work abroad in places in Europe like Ireland, Turkey and Portugal. He would eventually come back to the United States to teach in New York, which followed with his headship as the Department Chair of  the sociology department at Texas A&M. Now, he has landed in El Paso, Texas, and he is very enthusiastic about the mission at UTEP.

“This is the first university I’ve been at which I think is really developing what should be the new model for public university which is precisely this idea of access,” Dr. O’Hearn said. “The idea that the university would be reaching out into the community, not just to give access to a university education to students, but also to try and figure out how the university can play a strong role in the community as well.”

Dr. O’Hearn admires the sense of connection that UTEP has with the surrounding community. It’s a new experience and one of the main reasons that drew him to the Sun City and UTEP.  

“I’ve never felt that I could fully identify with what was going on in the university,” Dr. O’Hearn said. “I always felt if I wanted to do something important, I had to separate my life, and my vocation, and the things that I felt that were really important which are about community and community development.”

“It’s a two-way street,” Dr. O’Hearn said referring to how UTEP and the community work in tandem. “How do we build service-learning courses for example; where we get students out of the classroom and into the community so that they can do something righteous in the community.”

The new dean also loved how the university incorporated students from all backgrounds in its services.

“This university is finding ways to make the wall more invisible, to make it more possible that this as a community, as a single city that El Paso and Juarez can work together and that UTEP can be at the center of that,” Dr. O’Hearn said. “I think that’s a very, very important part of the mission.”

As the new dean, he is determined to strengthen the ties between El Paso and Juarez.

“I know we can’t do it entirely because of the wall, but to the extent that we can make this a single community where everyone is equally cherished and given opportunity; and the mission of access and excellence reaches out in all directions,” Dr. O’Hearn said. “I think that that’s very important. It’s something I’m dedicated to.”