JUÁREZ — University of Texas at El Paso President Heather Wilson visited Ciudad Juárez this week to encourage students to consider UTEP as a place to pursue STEM higher education.

It was Wilson’s second visit to the city since assuming the presidency in 2019, and not her last, she told the students, businesspeople and dignitaries gathered Tuesday at Technology HUB.

“In 2010, our Board of Regents for the University of Texas System gave very specific guidance to reduce what we did in northern Mexico because of the violence,” Wilson said. “That’s now starting to be behind us. But we’ve forgotten what it means to be engaged in Juárez. That needs to be reestablished and we need partners to do that.”

One step in rebuilding binational connections comes in UTEP’s budding relationship with the Technology HUB, a business and technology incubator that offers training and resources to start-ups and entrepreneurs. Part of its facility, which is housed in a former U.S. consulate building, is dedicated to Fab Lab Juárez, where K-12 students can experiment with robotics, virtual reality and 3-D printing.

While UTEP is not directly involved with funding the Fab Lab, the university has current engineering students who “got their start” there, according to Wilson.

“Students can play here and do things and learn,” Wilson told El Paso Matters. “(They) get interested in this stuff, and often find that they’re looking for more. UTEP is one of the best universities in the country for research on 3-D manufacturing.”

A student at Fab Lab Juárez assists UTEP President Heather Wilson, right, during a demonstration of virtual reality technology on May 17. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Jesús Garcia, a project manager at Fab Lab Juárez, said that the tools and programs offered to the public are meant to help youth develop knowledge and interest in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

“We want (students) to know about these things so they don’t get left behind, so that they can discover what they want to study (in the future),” Garcia said in Spanish.

As part of its 2030 Strategic Plan, which Wilson released in 2021, UTEP aims to boost its enrollment by recruiting more students from northern Mexico.

Currently, about 1,200 students commute across the border to attend UTEP — about 5% of its student population. This number includes both Mexican nationals and U.S. citizens who live in Juárez.

Wilson told the Júarez high school students in attendance that UTEP is committed to serving students from Mexico.

“If a student has graduated from high school, it’s almost certain that we will admit them,” she said. “We can teach someone to speak English, if they want to be an engineer. If a student is willing to work, we will allow them the opportunity to go to college. We’ll teach you to swim, we will help you to succeed.”

Juárez resident and Cathedral High School student Ramiro Soto, right, speaks to UTEP President Heather Wilson about a potential community service partnership on May 17. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The president emphasized merit scholarship opportunities for Mexican students and the availability of in-state tuition rates for Juárez residents. During the 2021-22 academic year, 70 Mexican students received scholarship funding at UTEP.

The university also has agreements with the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Sonora and Durango to allow students who qualify for tuition assistance from those states to use those funds to attend UTEP. 

“We have more students from Mexico going to UTEP than any other university in America,” Wilson told the audience. “They’re welcome at UTEP and they belong.”

Disclosure: Corrie Boudreaux is a UTEP lecturer.

Corrie Boudreaux is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at UTEP and a freelance photojournalist in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region. She specializes in photography as a tool to explore insecurity,...