Wilson talks UTEP’s achievements, setbacks from COVID-19

Alyson Rodriguez, Contributor

UTEP President Heather Wilson addressed the COVID-19 pandemic and the institution’s work as a Hispanic serving university during her State of the University address Oct. 27 and 28, broadcasted on KTEP-FM.

At the beginning of the broadcast Wilson opened with a story about Ruth Augur, registrar of what used to known as the “School of Mines.” Augur lead the university during the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, when she would entertain students in quarantine by playing the cello.

The president then proceeded to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, where she expresses her gratitude toward faculty and students who assisted in creating a safe, healthy and successful campus during this challenging time.

“The response of our faculty, staff and students to this pandemic has been remarkable,” Wilson said. “I want to let you know that I’m very proud of all of you. UTEP’s response to COVID-19 has been exceptional.”

Wilson gave credit to specific individuals including the Student Government Association (SGA) and Graduate Dean Stephen Crites’ team who came together to plan UTEP’s fall semester.

“Students took the lead, creating a culture on campus of using best health practices all the time,” Wilson said. “Faculty figured out what courses really needed to be taught in person and arranged to teach others by distance. This required our registrar to take apart the entire fall schedule of some 3,800 classes and rebuild it. That usually takes months, and she and her team did it in weeks.”

Other individuals included the instructional consultants who trained faculty on how to adapt to the online learning environment. Wilson also praised financial aid, student affairs and institutional technology departments for receiving grants in technology for students. The institutional technology department raised over $162,000 for students, Wilson said.

Wilson also addressed surge in COVID-19 cases the city has seen but praised SGA’s commitment to prevent the spread of the virus on campus.

“I met with our student government leaders to find out what we could do better,” Wilson said. “They gave me a lot of good ideas. But as the disease increases around us and as universities across the country struggle to protect health while continuing to teach, our students praised the campus testing program, the distancing and cleaning in the buildings, and the culture of care at UTEP.”

The president acknowledged the recognition the university received by national media outlets like NBC News as a Hispanic serving institution with the highest number of degrees awarded in its 105-year history this year. There was also a record number of graduates from the College of Engineering. The school of Nursing also started a nurse practitioner program in psychiatric mental health. The fourth cohort of pharmacy students received their lab coats. And the Ph.D. in Data Science was approved and is now admitting students.

UTEP also continues in advancing in making discoveries through innovative and relative research across all of the colleges and schools. The University’s research grants are also growing as well.

The College of Science has received many grants to study COVID, cancer, tick and mosquito-borne viruses, glaucoma and other diseases affecting the region. UTEP is a leader in research on Hispanic health disparities as well. And has awarded 139 doctoral degrees.

Other accomplishments Wilson discussed include UTEP’s opera program giving an extraordinary first performance through Facebook Live, the business school deepened and created stronger partnerships with Prudential Finance, ADP, and Charles Schwab. The College of Education expanded its teaching residency in partnerships with local districts and changed program so students can acquire a master’s degree in one year, Wilson highlighted.

Even though there were many accomplishments that UTEP achieved, there was also many challenges such as the university’s funding being reduced by five percent and elimination of vacant positions, reduction of student employment and operating expenses. There has also been a great decline in attendance at sporting events.

“While distance education makes continued progress possible for our students in an unusual time, and while this technology will change us, we’ve also learned something that we really knew about ourselves all along. We learn best when we engage meaningfully with each other,” Wilson said. “We long for this to be over and to be back together, with our students again. UTEP continues to fulfill its mission of providing access to excellent higher education.”

Alyson Rodriguez can be reached at [email protected]; @alyson_rod1127 on Twitter.