Fiesta Fever Hits TTUHSC El Paso as Students Return for the New Academic Year

Sunny skies set the stage for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Welcome Back Fiesta on Tuesday, Sept. 26.

The fiesta was organized as an appreciation event for TTUHSC El Paso’s devoted employees and students, who tirelessly dedicate themselves to our community year-round and live the university’s values-based culture by providing world-class education, research and patient care.

Richard Lange, M.D., M.B.A., president of TTUHSC El Paso, welcomed the campus community as students, residents, fellows, faculty and staff took a break from work and classes and headed to the lawn outside Medical Sciences Building II for tasty snacks and giveaways. El Paso 360 Photo Booth Co. also was on hand to capture memorable photos.

This year, giveaways included special TTUHSC El Paso T-shirts celebrating the new Steve and Nancy Fox Cancer Center, which will be housed on the TTUHSC El Paso campus and serve cancer warriors from our Borderplex and throughout West Texas.

Special guests at the fiesta included area mascots such as the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Chamber Churro, Destination El Paso’s Amigo Man, El Paso Rhinos’ Spike and Locomotive FC’s Ozzy the Bat. Players from the Locomotive and Rhinos also joined the celebration with the TTUHSC El Paso community.

TTUHSC El Paso is the only health sciences center in Texas west of Interstate 35 offering medical, nursing, dental and biomedical sciences education on one campus. This creates unique opportunities for our students to learn and train alongside each other, making them better prepared to enter the workforce with the experience of collaboration with individuals from other health professions.

Currently, 52% of TTUHSC El Paso students are from border counties throughout Texas. Their education and training at the university prepare them to remain in or return to their hometowns to practice in areas with unique needs and a shortage of health care professionals.

Foster School of Medicine

The class of 2027 boasts 124 students, one of the largest in Foster School of Medicine history. TTUHSC El Paso aims to increase class sizes to 150 in the near future, which will help reduce local, regional and state-wide physician shortages.

El Pasoan Johnny Odeh, a first-year medical student, has thought about being a doctor since childhood. It was while shadowing a local physician that his decision was solidified.

“Just to see the positive impact he had on his patients was inspiring,” Odeh said. “What keeps me going is keeping the bigger picture in mind. There can be setbacks but all it takes is one success and then another one and you’ll be rolling. So, just keep it going.”

Odeh has learned so much in the first two months of the academic year that he can’t wait to learn more and apply it in the real world.

He hasn’t chosen the specialty he would like to pursue but is strongly considering oncology. He would like to come back to El Paso and be a practicing physician sometime in the future.

Since opening in 2009, the Foster School of Medicine has educated nearly 800 graduates who have become or are on their way to becoming practicing physicians. The school’s faculty trains students in culturally competent care with the goal of preparing future physicians to practice in our Borderplex, serving a predominantly Hispanic population.

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts a continued increase in the number of Hispanics in the nation, accounting for 25% of the population in 10 years. However, less than 6% of physicians in the U.S. are Hispanic. As the only health sciences center along the U.S.-Mexico border, TTUHSC El Paso is preparing the next generation of Hispanic health care providers. In 2021-2022, 57% of the university’s graduates identified as Hispanic.

Hunt School of Dental Medicine

This academic year, the Hunt School of Dental Medicine welcomes its third cohort.

Among the new students at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, 22% are first-generation college students, and 60% are multilingual. The group is also familiar with the needs of our Borderplex, as 40% of the class hails from West Texas and the Texas border region, including 12 from El Paso.

Donte Butler, a first-year student at the Hunt School of Dental Medicine, found his calling in dentistry after a profound experience during his previous career.

Reflecting on his inspiration, Butler, originally from Dixmoor, Illinois, near Chicago, said, “Dentistry feels like a calling to me after witnessing the lack of oral health care in my hometown. The military provided me with exceptional dental care, sparking my interest.”

Butler served in the Army from 2013 to 2020, which eventually brought him to our Borderplex community.

He looks forward to treating patients in his first year as part of his training in the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic. Hunt School of Dental Medicine students see patients at the clinic within their first year, a rarity for U.S. dental schools.

“Gaining clinical experience early in my education will not only enhance my confidence and competence, but also foster teamwork and improve my interactions with patients,” Butler said. “Coming from an underserved area, I understand the significance of aiding those who can’t afford health care.”

The shortage of dental providers along the U.S.-Mexico border has significant and tangible impacts on the underserved communities in our region. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 5,800 Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas exist nationwide, with a significant concentration along the border. These areas lack sufficient dental care providers, leading to a ratio of only one dentist for every 5,000 individuals in some border regions.

Hunt School of Nursing

El Pasoan Kristian Campa was inspired to go into nursing after witnessing the quality of care his grandmother received while in the hospital.

“While she was fighting against cancer, the nursing staff and health care team were by her side the entire time,” Campa said. “Seeing how compassionate the nurses were and how close they became with their patients inspired me to pursue a career in the nursing field. As a result, my aspiration is to serve as a beacon of hope for patients through nursing.”

Campa is one of 65 students in the newest cohort of the school’s 16-month Accelerated B.S.N. program. In a region where the nurse shortage looms large, 54 of the students hail from our Borderplex region.

The decision by TTUHSC El Paso to offer an accelerated nursing program is a strategic response to a pronounced health care crisis in our region. El Paso has a deficit of hundreds of registered nurses, a shortage that is projected to grow by an alarming rate in the next decade. This deficiency translates into longer wait times for patients, increased patient-to-nurse ratios and potential compromises in the quality of care.

The Hunt School of Nursing has emerged as a vital asset to the community in addressing the region’s nursing shortage. Since its inception in 2012, the program has graduated over 1,200 nurses, many of whom are employed within our local health care system. The impact of the program is evident in reduced patient-to-nurse ratios and improved health care access.

Campa attended Maxine L. Silva Health Magnet High School, an El Paso school that offers health care courses to train students for their chosen profession, including the Accelerated B.S.N pipeline program to the Hunt School of Nursing.

“Following high school, all my prerequisite classes had been completed and allowed for direct enrollment here at the Hunt School of Nursing,” Campa said. “The pipeline was a tremendous blessing in my life because it allowed me to save money on college and accelerate my way into the nursing field.

After completing the 16-month program, Campa will be an R.N. with a B.S.N. at 19 years old.

Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Carina Sanchez is a proud El Pasoan working toward a Master of Science in biomedical sciences and will graduate in May 2024. She chose the master’s program as a steppingstone to dental school and her dream of becoming a dental surgeon.

“Thousands of students are vying for a place in dental programs, and I wanted to become a notable competitor by improving my academic standing,” she said. “The biomedical research program will also give me plenty of experience when I continue lab research in dental school.”

Sanchez is excited to pick up where her cancer-research peers left off.

“They led the way for my work with liver cancer cells, where I’ll be conducting research to understand liver cancer growth and progression,” she said. “It makes me proud to be a part of cancer research, as cancer has affected multiple members of my family.”

Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences students gain research experience while studying health conditions impacting Hispanic and border populations. Currently, 60% of students are Hispanic. With the growing U.S. Hispanic population, there is a need for diversity among biomedical researchers.

According to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, there are about 143,000 people employed as medical scientists in the country. Among them, 58.2% were White, 33.8% were Asian, 7.9% were Hispanic, and 5.1% were African American.

About Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso

TTUHSC El Paso is the only health sciences center on the U.S.-Mexico border and serves 108 counties in West Texas that have been historically underserved. It’s a designated Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution, preparing the next generation of health care heroes, 48% of whom identify as Hispanic and are often first-generation students.

Established as an independent university in the Texas Tech University System in 2013, TTUHSC El Paso is celebrating 10 years as a proudly diverse and uniquely innovative destination for education and research. According to a 2022 analysis, TTUHSC El Paso contributes $634.4 million annually to our Borderplex region’s economy.

With a mission of eliminating health care barriers and creating life-changing educational opportunities for Borderplex residents, TTUHSC El Paso has graduated over 2,000 doctors, nurses and researchers over the past decade, and will add dentists to its alumni beginning in 2025. For more information, visit