UTEP President Dr. Heather Wilson | Photo by Ivan Pierre Aguirre/UTEP Communications
UTEP President Heather Wilson was one of 14 university presidents who joined Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Dr. Deborah Birx from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a teleconference call Wednesday to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the nation’s institutions of higher education and plans to reopen campuses.
The Vice President indicated he wanted to stay in touch with the group as planning continues. President Wilson was the only president on the call representing a Texas university.
She described the call as encouraging and said the main message from the group of university leaders — which included the presidents of Stanford University and the University of Notre Dame, among others — was a desire to safely return to campuses this fall.
“Higher education is an important economic engine for recovery,” Wilson said. “I appreciate that Vice President Pence and Secretary DeVos want to learn more about what the federal government can do to help our country bounce back even stronger and the role our universities play in that.”
The University of Texas at El Paso shifted to online instruction in March and has thus far only opened online courses for its summer terms. UTEP has already initiated efforts to return to campus.
In late April, a Recovery Plan Task Force, led by Stephen Crites, Ph.D., Dean of the Graduate School, was formed to develop and provide recommendations to UTEP’s senior leadership team on actions, timelines, resources needed, and policies and procedures related to the campus reopening.
The University also recently began accepting applications for emergency financial assistance available through the CARES Act, a relief fund created by the federal government to support eligible college students impacted by the coronavirus.
Officials share that, to date, UTEP has provided more than $2.1 million in emergency aid grants to nearly 4,300 students.
Half of UTEP students are the first in their families to go to college and two-thirds come from families of modest means and receive Pell grants.