Access, talent, research and external funding 4 keys to UT El Paso’s continued success, retiring president Natalicio says

EL PASO, Texas — After spending three decades reshaping the University of Texas at El Paso, Diana Natalicio isn’t sure she’s ready for the next stage of her life. “Well, I mean, in some ways I am and in some ways I’m not, having done the same thing for 30 years,” said Natalicio, who announced her retirement in May as UTEP’s president. “I don’t have much practice on the retirement side of this. So I think it’s a good time for me to do this. But I’ll have to see how successful I am at being a retiree.”

Natalicio, a 79-year-old native of St.

UTEP’s Borderzine wins prestigious national journalism grant for bi-national media project to tell real story of the borderlands

EL PASO – Borderzine – the University of Texas at El Paso’s award-winning web magazine – received a $35,000 grant from the Online News Association to fund a binational journalism multimedia project between the communities of El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Students from UTEP, El Paso Community College and the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juarez will work together on the project called “Engaging Community Across Borders Through Media.”

“It’s an ambitious project to engage border residents from the U.S. and Mexico sides to better relate to the rest of the world the reality of the border minus the usual stereotypes,” said Zita Arocha, professor of practice at UTEP and director of Borderzine. Local media from both sides of the border also will participate in the project with the goal of helping communities identify solutions to common binational issues such as immigration, transportation, environmental challenges, socio-economic development and health and medical needs, Arocha said. Key media partners include KTEP, El Diario de El Paso, El Paso Times, El Paso Inc., Ser Empresario, KVIA, Univision, Telemundo and KFOX. More than a dozen students from UTEP, EPCC and UACJ will work as a team to produce multilingual content about the borderlands – from podcasts to video stories to an e-book designed to dispel common myths about the region, Arocha said.

Hazy skyline of El Paso

Air quality one of the biggest threats on U.S., Mexico border

EL PASO – Lower Valley resident Daniela Caro struggles to breathe some days. “On bad days my asthma gets really bad, my throat closes up, even walking to class is a little bit hard,” she said. The 23-year-old El Pasoan lives near Riverside where trucks spew toxic fumes as they transport goods across the El Paso-Juarez border. The American Lung Association ranks El Paso’s pollution in the top 20 among U.S. metropolitan areas for both particles and ozone. Poor air quality has been linked to health issues, particularly for at-risk groups like children, older adults and anyone with respiratory problems like asthma.

Texas stares down the barrel of ‘open carry’ and ‘campus carry’ debate

I was watching a weightlifting competition in a Juarez gym not too far from my old home near Plaza Juarez Mall in 2009. As I sat near the stairs toward the back of the gym, a young man was struggling to lift an absurd amount of weight when two men who did not seem interested in the competition came in through the back entrance . I remember hearing a loud metal clanging noise like the sound of weights dropping, followed by gun shots. Everything after that is a blur — running up the stairs, finding a place to hide, people screaming. Only one particular detail remains clear, the jet black 9mm handgun in the killer’s fist.

Borderzine multimedia experience leads to journalism career opportunities

It’s been five years since my wife Danya and I first walked into the Cotton Memorial building for our introduction to journalism class at the University of Texas at El Paso. This is where we met our mentors David Smith Soto, Zita Arocha, and Lourdes Cueva Chacon. And where we learned the countless lessons we referenced every day at our internships and now at our jobs working for a daily newspaper. I was a creative writer at heart and felt comfortable with my storytelling abilities. Danya was an artistic photographer and felt comfortable telling visual stories.

Bhutanese visitor sees home in unique Texas university architecture

EL PASO –Sweating from a three-hour rehearsal of George Fredric Handel’s opera Acis and Galatea, Bhutanese performer Tshering Goen, dressed in blues, yellows, and deep reds began to prepare for a second round of practice. Goen, a director of the Bhutan Royal Academy of Performing Arts, came here to perform at the University of Texas at El Paso, a campus filled with buildings inspired by Bhutanese architecture. The Kingdom of Bhutan is at the eastern end of the Himalayas in South Asia. “I feel as if I am back in Bhutan,” Goen said with calmness in his voice as he donned an animal mask to continue with the rehearsal of a classic Western opera in Bhutanese dress. Related story and video: Love and Death visit Handel’s Acis and Galatea in a Bhutanese cremation field

The Bhutanese interpretation of the classic Handel opera fit perfectly with the architectural history of this campus, nestled in the foothills of the Franklin Mountains in the Chihuahuan desert.

Senioritis is killing me, but freedom looms ahead

EL PASO — I’m suffering from a compilation of excitement, regret, anger, laziness, and nostalgia, but I don’t need a shrink. My ailment is called senioritis and all I need to get better is to graduate. I’m fully aware that I suffer from senioritis, but not because I’m skipping class or getting lower grades. Neither of those have occurred so I’m in the clear in that category, but I’ve just been dragging along these past few months for several reasons.Excitement: Like every other senior, I am pumped to be able to say, “I’m a college graduate” in a few months. After four years (okay, I lied, 6 years) of all-nighters studying (with Facebook and Netflix study breaks), group projects (where you end up doing 90% of the work and everyone else gets your well-deserved A), and subjecting your body to fast-food so you can even find time to eat (which you eventually learn to enjoy), you deserve that diploma.Me personally, I love knowing that once I get home from work, I won’t have to worry about checking Blackboard and that I can re-watch Dexter from the beginning in peace, without feeling like I’m not accomplishing anything.

A smoke-free campus protects the health of all, but frustrates some

EL PASO — Some students and staff at The University of Texas at El Paso say that smoking cigarettes can ease the stress that comes with study or work, but that tension isn’t going away any time soon. After 100 years the cloud of tobacco smoke at UTEP is lifting. UTEP banned the use of all tobacco products from university property on February 20.Notifications for the major campus reform came through a mass email that afternoon but for some the full realization didn’t hit home until they arrived on campus the following week. The school mascot PayDirt Pete adorned Smoke Free Campus signs and orange flags representing tobacco litter on the floor were there like slaps in the faces of unaware smokers.This massive reform affects too many people to be broadcast through only an email, according to smoker Tony Acuna, who was one of many regulars hanging out outside the doors of the library. He said that his rights are at stake.“Smoking is my choice, just as eating fast food,” said Acuna.

Undergraduates learn to explain each others’ research to a lay audience

EL PASO – Computer science and special education majors do not normally meet to discuss each other’s research, but Amanda Sepulveda and Garrett Shaw met throughout the spring 2014 semester to share research in preparation for a competition funded by the Campus Office of Undergraduate Research Initiatives (COURI). Sepulveda is a special education major researching autism spectrum disorder, and Shaw is a computer science major researching optimization of high performance computing. They made up the winning team among the 50 that competed in COURI’s, “Explaining Research to a Non-Expert Audience” competition April 16-17. The competition was a prelude to a two-day undergraduate research symposium hosted by COURI that gave undergraduates the chance to present and discuss their research with faculty, peers, and the El Paso community. COURI was founded to help engage undergraduates in scholarly research.

UTEP prepares to host Baja Buggy Race

EL PASO — Wearing tight-fitting safety glasses, two engineering students concentrate on turning pieces of metal on a lathe hoping to create the perfect component for an impressive Baja Buggy that they hope will catch the attention of recruiters. The students at work in an engineering workshop on the University of Texas at El Paso campus belong to Mad Pete’s Motorsports, a team of mechanical engineers who are part of the national Society of Automotive Engineering (SAE). Their goal is to construct buggies — modified off-road motor vehicles — to compete in the Big Baja Society of Automotive Engineering event that takes outside the UTEP Student Recreation Center from April 24 – 27. Although UTEP has participated in the Baja Buggy Race for over three decades, it has been 16 years since the school hosted the annual SAE event on campus. This time over 100 teams from around the world will compete here to see which ones have the best engineering skills to build efficient, safe, responsive buggies.

Longtime El Paso sports writer Ray Sanchez remembers the laughs and the tears

EL PASO — Ray Sanchez, considered the first Hispanic sports writer in El Paso, has a long view of local sports history and he remembers the stories that made him laugh and cry in his latest book. “I had a lot of happy parts in my book that I enjoyed. There were so many games, so many great ones,” said Sanchez about his latest book The Good, The Bad, And the Funny of El Paso Sports History, “But I guess the biggest thrill I got, and it was so emotional that I almost cried when I would write it, was when the Miners won this 1966 championship.”

He has written seven books, all of them about sports. He was a sports writer for the El Paso Herald-Post from 1950 to 1990. He was a columnist for the El Paso Times, and currently writes for El Paso, Inc. He has won numerous awards for his coverage.

Centennial Plaza will be located in the middle of UTEP campus and includes a Lhakhang, a gift from the Kingdom of Bhutan. (Nora Rausch/

UTEP campus gets a facelift in time for centennial celebrations

EL PASO – The University of Texas at El Paso begins its centennial celebrations at the start of 2014 and students are excited about the changes the centennial is bringing to campus. “I’ve seen the plans for the construction, and it looks like it will be worth it,” says sophomore UTEP student Eliana Grijalva. “The model for the Centennial Plaza looks really cool. I just can’t wait until construction is done,” she added. Other students agree that while the construction now is tedious, the end result looks like it will be well worth it.

Engineering Professor Roger V. Gonzalez graduated from UTEP. (Velia Quiroz/

UTEP professor recognized for international work providing affordable prosthetic limbs to amputees

EL PASO – Roger V. Gonzalez has been to every continent except Antarctica in the last 30 years. He has traveled through almost 30 countries and 48 states of the union. Although he has seen most of the world and experienced many cultures, he says he’s been most affected by encounters with hundreds of men, women, and children with missing limbs because of poor health or accidents that have led to amputations. “It’s really hard to see those who are disabled,” said Gonzalez, 50, a UTEP engineering professor who recently was nominated as Global Humanitarian Engineer of the year. He is also the founder of LIMBS International, a nonprofit founded about 10 years ago that offers affordable prosthetic solutions to amputees around the world.

UTEP officers were unable to provide information about the average amount of student debt among UTEP students. (Elliot Torres/

Counselors see a rise in mental health issues among college students

EL PASO— With college enrollment constantly increasing, the number of students with mental health issues on college campuses has also gone up. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that anxiety, depression and general stress are on the rise. In 2012 “more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year,” according to  NAMI. These are individuals who come into university and find themselves dealing with “stress, relationships, and adjusting to college life,” which happen to be some of the major issues weighing on student’s minds at The University of Texas at El Paso, says Cecilia Holguin, a licensed clinical social worker and one of several counselors at the University Counseling Center. A major problem for these students is a lack of awareness that help is nearby.  “We always try to do outreach.

Personal trainer trims down clients and bulks up on education

EL PASO – Hiding in the back room behind the treadmills, elliptical machines, and 50-pound steel weights, Kimberly Rayner carefully underlines important information in her economics textbook to prepare for an exam. She still manages to look up and smile at the sweaty people in T-shirts and spandex lifting weights, doing sit-ups, and running at the gym trying to get their summer bodies in shape. “Come on, you can do it!” she cheers and “reach for it!” as she watches her trainees’ eyes light up at her words of encouragement. Rayner is both a student at The University of Texas at El Paso and personal trainer at New You Fitness and Yoga Studio located in the west side. Like other students on tight schedules who juggle jobs and college life, Rayner rises every Monday through Saturday at 4 a.m. to head to the gym where she works roughly 30 to 40 hours a week, sometimes pulling 12-hour shifts and attending college classes between training sessions.

Bottle caps, movie tickets and model trains bring happiness to collectors

EL PASO – From Budweiser to Red Stripe, bottle caps line the windowsill of Chris Macias’ bedroom, reflecting the sun’s rays, coloring the white walls in greens, blues and yellows. Two years ago, Macias started saving only the bottle caps of Jarritos, a Mexican soda, but after his 21st birthday last year, he began to collect only beer bottle caps. “It doesn’t even have to be something that I drank,” Macias said. “If I see a bottle cap, I might just snatch it.”

With over 100,000 collectors, coins are the most popular collectible in the United States, but others show off their collection of virtually anything — celebrity hair has racked up roughly 2,000 collectors in the last decade. Whatever the item, collecting is a human trait.

Multimedia journalism academy gives teachers time to learn

On a Saturday morning in early June, a UTEP classroom buzzed with anticipation as students sat in front of computers and watched demonstrations on the brave new world of multimedia journalism. Their teachers were seasoned pros in the arts of sound recording, social media, videography, web programming, and much more. The students themselves were professionals in a different regard; they were university professors who had traveled from all over the country to participate in the fourth annual Dow Jones Multimedia Training Academy hosted by UTEP. By the end of their five-day intensive program, the group of journalism teachers had learned to beat the El Paso summer heat as well as how to use the technology available to them to educate upcoming generations of reporters. The group included representatives from the University of Arizona, San Diego City College, Arizona State University, North Texas University, California State University at Long Beach, Texas State University, Texas Christian University, Illinois State University,Central Michigan University, Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, Florida International University and the University of Oklahoma.

DEA Special Agent in Charge Joseph Arabit (far right) confirm that violence in Juárez was down about 74 percent from its peak in 2010. (Anoushka Valodya/

Juárez violence down 74 percent from 2010 peak

EL PASO – The word “partnership” was frequently used at the round table discussion of “Security Along the U.S.-Mexico Border” to explain what it takes to counter terrorism. This event was one of the many sessions of the 9th annual International Association For Intelligence Education (IAFIE) conference at the University of Texas at El Paso Wednesday. Five government officials of various agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spoke in the panel. UTEP’s Vice-Provost Michael Smith began the session as the moderator. “This is a topic of keen interest obviously in El Paso and along the border region,” Smith said.

The Cailfornia Beach at sunset. (Courtesy of Stacie Aguilar)

Students spread the gospel on the beach

EL PASO – The Baptist Student Ministries at the University of Texas at El Paso changed venues from South Padre Island to San Diego for its annual spring break mission at the beach this year, but the purpose of the trip remained the same – to talk to people about the gospel while having fun. The BSM is a well-known student organization that has been at UTEP since 1955. They spread the good news and the gospel of Jesus Christ on campus, serve lunch to students every Wednesday, which helps fund the student missions, and every spring break they go on a missionary trip to the beach. For the past five years they have been going to South Padre Island in South Texas on the Gulf of Mexico to help out with other Texas BSM organizations, but this year due to the Texas spring break being the week before UTEP’s, they went to San Diego. “The biggest reason we are going to San Diego is we wanted a change of pace and to expose the students to another part of the country,” said BSM Director Chris Smith.

Estudian las comunidades judías, musulmanas y cristianas de la Edad Media en Andalucía

EL PASO – Un grupo de 29 estudiantes y tres instructores de la Universidad de Texas en El Paso viajaron a España en mayo para explorar de manera directa la historia y la cultura españolas. Educadores y estudiantes desarrollaron un proyecto interdisciplinario original que evalúa la importancia de la tolerancia religiosa en la construcción de una sociedad líder en Europa en los campos de arte y ciencia durante la Edad Media. El grupo viajó por Andalucía durante tres semanas, realizando investigaciones sobre la historia de las comunidades judías, musulmanas, y cristianas en el sur de España. Los resultados de este viaje e investigaciones están cristalizadas en el documental, antología, y exhibición fotográfica titulada Andalucía: Fusión de tres culturas. “Ha sido la más hermosa experiencia de mi vida”, dijo Héctor Enríquez, director del proyecto, en la premier privada del documental en presentada en el Quinn Hall de UTEP aquí el 17 de abril.

Bomb threat empties the University of Texas at El Paso campus

EL PASO—More than 15,000 students and faculty members were evacuated today from the University of Texas at El Paso as a result of an anonymous bomb threat. At 1:58 p.m. the UTEP Police Department issued a text message and an e-mail alerting everyone enrolled in the Miner Alert System to evacuate the campus. UTEP Police Chief Cliff Walsh would not disclose any details about the ongoing investigation, except that it was initiated by a phone call and the proper precautionary steps were taken as a response to the threat. “The campus is safe. We are going to check the campus out and we will engage in other activities to make sure the campus is safe and we are working with our state, local and federal partners on this as well,” said Walsh during a press conference at Mundy Park, just outside of campus.

Few local restaurants offer menus in braille for the vision-impaired

EL PASO – Trying to pick from the vast number of dishes on a restaurant menu can be challenging, but imagine not being able to see the menu. Blind or vision-impaired persons must deal with that anomaly. Only a few restaurants in El Paso offer braille menus to their blind or vision-impaired customers, according to phone interviews with 21 local restaurants. The only ones were the national chains Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Applebee’s, and BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse. Some 21 million adults – about 9 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 18, reported having vision problems, according to the 2011 National Health Interview Survey prepared by the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 8,000 5th and 7th graders visitUTEP in a field trip called Pick Your Dream. (Anoushka Valodya/

El Paso must enhance prosperity to retain its best college graduates

EL PASO – City and county leaders met with higher education experts at The University of Texas at El Paso recently to figure out how to stem the brain drain they say is robbing the border region of its future leaders. “We continue to see too many UTEP graduates taking jobs in other cities,” President Diana Natalicio said. “It’s not because they want to go, but because they don’t have opportunities here. So we’re not going to postpone this conversation any longer.”

During the meeting, called The Shared Plan For Regional Opportunity, experts said that 70 percent of UTEP’s graduates leave El Paso. This meeting, part of UTEP’s participation in a national initiative called Opportunity Nation, that seeks to “develop strategies to revitalize the American Dream, foster social mobility and stimulate new economic opportunities.”

The meeting was Part One of UTEP’s Opportunity Days.

Dr. Stacey Sowards (second from left), with UTEP students and forest rangers at Gunung Walat Forest, Indonesia in 2009. (Courtesy of Stacey Sowards)

$1 million AID grant to promote UTEP program in environmental conservation in communication

EL PASO – When Stacey Sowards’ parents moved to tropical East Kalimantan in Indonesia during her last year at Colorado College, little did she know that the new experience would guide her future academic achievements. Sowards, an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Texas at El Paso, first experienced Indonesia in 1994. It was not long before she started teaching Intercultural Communication at different locations in East Kalimantan. She wrote her doctoral dissertation about environmental organizations working to protect orangutans in Indonesia. Sowards received a Fulbright scholarship in 2000 that allowed her to live in Indonesia for about a year and she has returned numerous times since then.

UTEP football players ready for the Houston game. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre/Courtesy of UTEP Athletics)

Concussions – the most common injury for young athletes – have lifelong medical consequences

EL PASO – Stadium lights beam down on a high school Friday night football game as the ball is snapped, shoulder pads clash and the crowd roars when the wide receiver dodges, turns around and reaches for the ball only to be blindsided by a crushing tackle that floors him with a concussion. Concussions are the most common injury athletes face and it is an injury that has lifelong medical consequences for young athletes. Sports-related concussions rank second in the number of brain injuries after motor vehicle accidents according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “We deal with some kind of concussion about two to three players a game,” said Casey Austin, a graduate assistant and athletic trainer at the University of Texas at El Paso. UTEP’s football team experiences some 24 concussions per season, he said, but “that’s not including practice concussions.”  The number of concussions would be higher, he said, if practices are included.

Members of Occupy El Paso help by making poster signs and setting up a tent that has become the symbol of the Occupy movement. (Lourdes Marie Ortiz/

Protesters occupy UTEP raising concerns about student debt and unemployment

EL PASO – In an effort to voice concerns about student loan debt and unemployment, dozens of students set up camp during Occupy College Month in February at the University of Texas at El Paso

“We are here to raise awareness, promote reform, and motivate action,” Orlando V. Cordova, member of Occupy El Paso, said. He added this is also an effort to promote change away from social, political and economic injustices. In support of the National Day of Action for Education, members of the Occupy movement organized the event and sold donated books to raise funds. “I am here because I am one of the 99 percent,” said David McKenny, president of Miners Without Borders. “Students need to become the educated population in order to compete in the market.” According to its website, Miners Without Borders was organized “to look beyond borders, especially the current situation in Cd.

Zumba instructors and UTEP mascot, Paydirt Pete, entice people into healthy exercising. (Cassandra Morrill/

Health care information finds a new venue at the local zoo

EL PASO – A different species of animal invaded the El Paso Zoo recently as some 20 community health agencies gathered there with the wildlife to focus the need human beings have for healthy living habits. The El Paso Zoo and the Woman’s Health Initiative (WHI) program at the University of Texas at El Paso came together on Saturday the 26th of February to broadcast a message about diabetes, HIV, and ways to improve health in a fun way. The zoo was filled with UTEP students in bright orange school colors and members of the community. “You can have fun and be healthy at the same time,” Arely Hernandez, member of the WHI, said. She added these types of events allow UTEP students to get their family and friends involved as well.

Members of the Diaz family listen UTEP officials honor the memory of Eder Diaz. (Danya Hernandez/

Los nombres de víctimas olvidadas se convierten en números en Juárez

EL PASO —  Miles han muerto y mas siguen muriendo en Cd. Juárez  – 4703 personas en 2010 y en lo que va de 2011 – personas que se convierten en números dentro de los escritorios de funcionarios y los nombres se desvanecen en vaga memoria. El primer aniversario de las muertes de Eder Díaz y Manuel Acosta, dos estudiantes de la Universidad de Texas en El Paso asesinados en Cd. Juárez,  se cumple Noviembre 2. La mayoría de los casos de víctimas en la cuidad de Juárez, terminan como casos desaparecidos.