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UTEP Expects to Award Record Number of Doctoral Degrees


UTEP Expects to Award Record Number of Doctoral Degrees


UTEP Expects to Award Record Number of Doctoral Degrees

More than 2,200 graduates and candidates are eligible to participate in UTEP's 131st commencement ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 14, in the Don Haskins Center.
Photo by UTEP News Service
Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

From her modest roots in Chihuahua, Mexico, Amabilia "Mabi" Valenzuela dared to dream big. As a child, she read discarded science textbooks and was inspired by the research conducted by psychologists, chemists and biologists. She knew she wanted her future to involve discovery.

Her journey will reach a milestone Saturday, Dec. 14, as she becomes one of three percent of the U.S. population who holds either a doctoral or professional degree. She will earn a Doctor of Philosophy degree during UTEP's 131st commencement ceremonies at the Don Haskins Center. The ceremonies also will be streamed live on

Valenzuela, whose Ph.D. is in Teaching, Learning and Culture, will participate in the 2 p.m. ceremony with her peers from the School of Nursing and the colleges of Education and Business Administration. She will be among the more than 2,200 students, including 324 summer graduates, who are eligible to participate in the three programs. The others are at 9 a.m. (College of Liberal Arts) and 7 p.m. (the colleges of Science, Engineering and Health Sciences).

The ceremonies will include the awarding of a projected record number of doctoral degrees – 36 Doctor of Philosophy, 24 Doctor of Physical Therapy and one Doctor of Education. The previous record of doctoral degrees awarded during a UTEP Winter Commencement was 51 in 2012.

Valenzuela, a first-generation American and first-generation college student with a 4.0 GPA, became emotional as she reflected on her 30-year academic odyssey that included its share of personal, professional and academic starts, stops and detours. She said she was eternally grateful to UTEP for allowing her to fulfill her childhood dream of conducting valuable cutting-edge research into social mobility that has been recognized nationally.

"I wanted to conduct research and this university gave me that opportunity," said a tearful Valenzuela who earned all her academic degrees from UTEP – a bachelor's in psychology in 1982 and a master's in general experimental psychology 20 years later. "The doors (of UTEP faculty members) always were open to me. This has been the best adventure of my life."

She credited UTEP with playing a major role in the academic and professional advancement of many people in the Paso del Norte region. She said her UTEP degrees helped her land jobs and earn promotions. The Texas Workforce Commission recently hired Valenzuela as its telecenter director in part because of her doctoral degree.

The projected record number of doctoral degrees comes on the heels of the University's students earning 128 doctorates during the 2012-13 academic year ending in August. The prior record was 66 the previous year. A benchmark to become a Tier One university is awarding at least 100 doctoral degrees per year.

"This achievement is a crucial milestone for the institution in its goal of becoming a national research university," said Benjamin C. Flores, Ph.D., dean of UTEP's Graduate School. "It shows that UTEP's investment in research infrastructure and development of new doctoral programs is paying off with great dividends."

One of the more popular doctoral programs is the Doctor of Physical Therapy in the College of Health Sciences, which awarded its first 21 degrees in December 2012. Twenty-four members of the second cohort are expected to earn their degrees this semester. The degree plan recently earned national accolades for its preparation of linguistically and culturally competent health care providers.

"This program will continue to expand in size with a goal of 36 students per class, as we continue to address our regional workforce shortages and add to the spectrum of health services that are available in our community," said Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., dean of the college. "It will be exciting to follow these graduates into practice and follow their achievements and contributions over time."

One unique graduate is Mireya A. Perez, the first student to earn a Master of Science in biomedical engineering from UTEP. The El Paso native completed her coursework last spring and walked across the stage in May, but decided to postpone her official graduation until now so her degree could be in biomedical engineering. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the biomedical engineering master's and doctoral degrees in July.

Perez, who earned her bachelor's degree in biology from UTEP in 2007, pursued the new degree because it would make her a better-rounded job candidate, she said. She admitted to keeping odd hours while doing the research for her thesis about using 3-D technology as a nerve guidance conduit for nerve regeneration, but said every sacrifice was worth it.

"Health care strategies are always advancing and biomedical engineers will be involved in the technological aspects," she said.

For the latest commencement information, visit


The University of Texas at El Paso
College of Engineering
Engineering Building Room A148
500 W University Ave
El Paso, TX 79968

Phone: (915) 747-6444
Fax: (915) 747-5437

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