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UTEP Ceremonies to Honor about 2,500 Graduates

Last Updated on December 09, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Originally published December 09, 2019

By Daniel Perez

UTEP Communications

For native El Pasoan Karina Rodriguez, the 2019 Winter Commencement at The University of Texas at El Paso signifies the end of a long, arduous journey. But as with many of her fellow graduates, part of success is reaching the finish line.

Karina Rodriguez is one of approximately 2,500 graduates from The University of Texas at El Paso that will walk across the stage this weekend during four Commencement ceremonies in the Don Haskins Center. Rodriguez will earn her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications
Karina Rodriguez is one of approximately 2,500 graduates from The University of Texas at El Paso that will walk across the stage this weekend during four Commencement ceremonies in the Don Haskins Center. Rodriguez will earn her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies. Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications

Rodriguez, who will earn her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, will participate in the 2 p.m. ceremony for the colleges of Business Administration and Education on Saturday, Dec. 14, in the Don Haskins Center.

UTEP has scheduled three other ceremonies to accommodate the approximately 2,500 graduates and candidates eligible to participate. The 9 a.m. ceremony is for students from the College of Liberal Arts; the 7 p.m. event is for the College of Health Sciences and the schools of Nursing and Pharmacy; and the celebration at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, is for the colleges of Engineering and Science, and the Graduate School.

Rodriguez, a first-generation college student, already has signed her contract with the Ysleta Independent School District’s Parkland Pre-Engineering Middle School. She will be a long-term substitute to complete the fall 2019 semester. She expects to receive her state teacher certification by the end of December, and she will start the 2020 spring semester as a sixth-grade special education teacher.

“I’ve been looking forward to being a teacher since I was a little girl,” she said after a day of student teaching at Parkland. “I had no Plan B. Being a teacher is everything to me. This degree is definitely an early Christmas gift.”

Rodriguez balanced her academics with multiple jobs to include work-study and restaurant server to earn money for tuition, books, as well as her cellphone, car and insurance. It supplemented a partial academic scholarship she earned as a freshman. Her jobs also paid for her health care, which involved frequent doctor visits to deal with a chronic disease that leaves her fatigued.   

“I needed a strong mind to finish,” said Rodriguez, who joined the Bilingual Education Student Organization, the Texas State Teacher Association, and Kappa Delta Pi, the education honor society. “I had to overcome so many obstacles. I proved to myself that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to do.”

UTEP officials consider Commencement a special time to revel in the accomplishments of the many students who have labored and sacrificed to attain their academic goals, said John Wiebe, Ph.D., interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“It’s important that we, as a University community, take time to reflect upon and celebrate the success of our graduates,” Wiebe said. “Their success is our success, and it’s difficult to overstate the significance of this moment for students who have spent so many years of their lives preparing for what’s next.”

The UTEP community also will celebrate the first graduates from two new degree plans – a bachelor of science in neuroscience and the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science (BAAS).

Paul “Alex” Bower of San Antonio earned the BAAS degree with concentrations in mathematics and security studies during the summer. His work schedule would not allow him to attend Commencement, but he is excited to earn his degree and grateful to UTEP for the opportunity to complete this leg of his academic journey.

Bower, part of an Air Force family, was raised in Spain, Germany and England before the family settled in Texas. The first-generation college student decided to postpone college and opted for a security job with a government contractor. Despite his professional success, he always wanted to earn a college degree to serve as a role model for his young children.

Because of his different familial and professional responsibilities, he looked for online options. He earned his AAS degree in welding technology from a San Antonio community college and then looked for a place to earn his bachelor’s degree. He enrolled in UTEP’s Extended University in August 2018 in part because of its inclusive reputation.

“I think UTEP is a great institution,” said Bower, who proudly added that he completed his UTEP coursework with a 4.0 GPA.

He said that Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business has accepted his application and he will start there in January 2020.

UTEP began to offer this degree during the fall 2018 semester. University administrators created the degree specifically for students who earned an associate degree in a health occupation or technical field and wanted to enhance their career options.

The degree plan, offered through the College of Liberal Arts and Extended University, has online and face-to-face foundation courses and 15-hour concentrations that align with student interests. While graduates must complete 120 credit hours, UTEP will accept 33 transfer credits as a technical block from an associate degree.

Another Commencement first will be after Nina Beltran earns her interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, which involves studies in physics, chemistry, biology and psychology. The degree is part of the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Science.

“I am beyond excited,” said Beltran, whose interest in the subject began after she witnessed a family member with epilepsy. The student said she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in pharmacology.

She thanked UTEP for its efforts to establish the new degree, and her mentor, Katherine Serafine, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, who oversaw her progress as a student and researcher for three years.   

On another positive note, UTEP’s Adult/Gerontologic Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program will graduate 34 nurse practitioners in December. This is the largest class to graduate since the School of Nursing introduced this master’s degree specialty in 2009.

Kathleen M. Cox, DNP, the program’s director, said one of the reasons for this large number is the increased visibility that adult gerontology acute care nurses have in healthcare at the national and regional levels.

There are more than 270,000 nurse practitioners in the country, and of those, only 8%, or about 21,600, are adult acute care certified. Physician shortages and increased healthcare demands for older adults have accelerated the need in this field, Cox said.

Because of the increased demand in acute care, UTEP’s School of Nursing designed and introduced its Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program, the first and only one in the region. The program’s first students graduated in 2011.

The demand in El Paso for these specific practitioners has increased every year since 2013. The UTEP program has graduated more than 120 of these specialists, and regional health care agencies employ many of them.

Another reason for the large number of program graduates this Commencement is the availability of educated and experienced faculty. Until this fall, the program only had one full time faculty member. Cox said. The School of Nursing hired another full-time instructor this fall to help eight part-time faculty who are practicing nurse practitioners.