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UTEP’s Institute of Oral History collaborates with local high schools for early college experience


As part of their collaboration with Bowie High School for a “Dia de los Muertos,” or day of the dead project, the Institute of Oral History at UTEP looks to introduce high school students to an early college experience.

“Project Coco,” created by Joel Rodriguez, Mexican American Studies teacher at Bowie High School, is about teaching the students the significance of not only honoring their ancestors, but the importance of the stories that pass from one generation to another.

The Institute of Oral History at UTEP has previously worked with other local high schools, but also this collaboration is set to help the students learn the process of acquiring historical information from their family members to tell their own stories.

“One of the ways that this project benefits the students is that we have these training skills that we know that were able to introduce to high school students early on in their academic careers,” said Angelina Martinez, Research Assistant for the Institute of Oral History at UTEP.

The project started two weeks ago and will end on Nov. 2. Students will have a Dia de los Muertos celebration on campus where they will share the stories recollected through the oral history training.

Even when the celebration from Dia de los Muertos comes from a Mexican tradition, according to Rodriguez the purpose of the project is to help the students get closer to the bicultural aspects of the border region and to know more about their heritage.

“A lot of our students walk over from Mexico. So we are a truly bicultural and binational border. I think parents want to make sure that their children still hold on to their stories that they’re passing on and so why not do something that families can relate to,” Rodriguez said. “There’s so many reasons why to celebrate a theme that sometimes can be confusing such as death so it really is an opportunity for expanding your knowledge and growing as individuals in this in this community.”

Aside from training the students, the purpose of the collaboration with UTEP is to expose and inspire the students to pursue a career and a higher education level.

“One of the biggest things for me is working with the southside schools, and some of the students who don’t necessarily get exposed to the university as much,” Martinez said. “I think it’s just really important for the university to be present in public schools more frequently, motivating or influencing public school students and let them know that it’s achievable for them that they know colleges and get into making it possible for them.”

Rodriguez said that he’s more than grateful to Dr. Yolanda Leyva, Chair of the History department at UTEP and the Institute of Oral History for their collaboration and for helping the students learn more about their heritage; showing them that they have an opportunity to pursue  a college education.

“Our students can get easily intimidated by somebody who looks different, by somebody who speaks different and many of them are going to choose UTEP as their choice so it is important for them to start making connections with the university now,” Rodriguez said.

Claudia Flores may be reached at [email protected].

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UTEP’s Institute of Oral History collaborates with local high schools for early college experience