The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is welcoming alumni, students, friends and fans to campus for 2021 Homecoming Week activities including reunions, tailgating, a pep rally and a Conference USA football game against Old Dominion University.
Festivities tied to the theme of “Celebrate the Roaring ’20s” began last week with the SGA Homecoming Pageant on Friday, Sept. 24, in UTEP’s Magoffin Auditorium, and will conclude with the Miners’ football game against the Old Dominion University Monarchs at 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 2, in Sun Bowl Stadium.
In between are numerous opportunities for students past and present – and the community – to have fun, celebrate school spirit and learn more about what is happening behind and between UTEP’s Bhutanese walls.
Among those who plan to attend various Homecoming activities is Alan Lizarraga, a senior biology major who is an intern with the Student Engagement and Leadership Center. He said he could sense the enthusiasm as more decorations go up and the various events to engage students and alumni to campus after last year’s Homecoming activities were canceled due to the pandemic.
“I’m excited because it’s like we’ve organized a huge welcome for everyone,” said Lizarraga, who has been involved in campus organizations and biodiversity research. “I’m happy that we are back together and can celebrate in person.”
Maribel Villalva, assistant vice president of alumni and donor engagement, said the inability to gather for UTEP’s Homecoming in 2020 because of the pandemic was a reminder of the importance of family. She hoped that Miners of all ages would join in this year’s extra special celebration.
Villalva, a two-time UTEP graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1997 and her MBA in 2017, called Homecoming a time to recognize accomplished alumni and share their stories.
“They are all wonderful ambassadors of UTEP and they represent the life-changing impact of a UTEP education,” Villalva said. “We hope our proud alumni – and the El Paso community – take the opportunity to participate in many of the great activities happening on campus this week.”
Among the early highlights was the popular Miner Dash 5K Run/3K Walk and Family Fitness Fiesta. This 11th annual event took place Sunday, Sept. 26, and gave participants an opportunity to glimpse the picturesque campus.
During the week, students will participate in on-campus and virtual activities from a trivia contest scavenger hunt to the competitive RSOlympics and the “Moving the Campus” dance interventions. Schools, colleges, departments and programs have planned events and social gatherings to recognize alumni and celebrate with goodie giveaways.
Melissa Melpignano, Ph.D., assistant professor of instruction and dance director, said “Moving the Campus” would give dance majors an opportunity to animate the campus’ distinctive architecture through different dance styles. The performances will start at noon Monday, Sept. 27, through Thursday, Sept. 30, at locations throughout campus.
“(The program) will bring new energy and a fresh perspective on the spaces that we cross and inhabit every day,” Melpignano said.
In a nod to inclusivity, Extended University, the campus’ hub for online and other nontraditional academic programs, will participate with cookie and popcorn giveaways on campus, but also with an event created for its virtual students and alumni.
Since 2015, UTEP Connect, which is part of Extended University, has graduated approximately 2,900 graduate and undergraduate online students. UTEP Connect’s registered fall 2021 students can participate in a trivia contest. Participants must answer correctly at least 20 of 50 questions geared toward the University’s rich history. Organizers will place qualified submissions into a drawing for a $25 gift card to the University Bookstore. There will be four graduate and four undergraduate winners.
“We hope to expand on virtual Homecoming events in the future to involve more of our virtual students and alumni,” said Beth Brunk-Chavez, Ph.D. dean of Extended University. “While our work is nontraditional, we are excited to participate in UTEP’s Homecoming in meaningful ways.”
The University turns up the roar with the annual UTEP Pep Rally at noon Thursday, Sept. 30, at Centennial Plaza. There will be performances by the marching band, cheerleaders and dance team, as well as introductions of the Homecoming Court and the winners of the Office Decorating Contest. There also will be inflatable games and refreshments.
Later that day, the University will welcome back its Golden Grads from the classes of 1970 and 1971 with an afternoon meet-and-greet at the Hilton Garden Inn. They also may attend a morning campus tour on Friday, Oct. 1, and a luncheon with UTEP President Heather Wilson on Saturday, Oct. 2, at the El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center.
The enthusiasm level goes up a few more decibels as hundreds of well-wishers will attend the Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1, in the Don Haskins Center. Award winners as well as their families and friends of the University celebrate the accomplishments of graduates.
As is tradition, the University will illuminate the “Mining Minds” pickaxe sculpture at UTEP’s University Avenue roundabout in blue and through Saturday, Oct. 2, to celebrate 2021 Homecoming festivities.
Concurrently, the “Mining Minds” pickaxe is being lit in remembrance of President Emerita Diana Natalicio, who died Sept. 24, 2021. She served as the University’s president from 1988-2019.
“Mining Minds” is an iconic piece of public art installed in 2010. At night, orange lights illuminate the steel structure while light from LEDs emanate from the perforated “ones” and “zeroes” at each end of the pick. The University illuminates the pick in blue and orange on special occasions to celebrate special accomplishments such as historic dates and major annual milestones.