Volume 80 | Issue 2
March 2012

Union Spotlight: Union Building, University of Texas–El Paso


 University of Texas–El Paso
Four-year, public, commuter, Hispanic-serving
Full-time enrollment: 22,640
Location: El Paso, Texas

Union Building
Director: Ofelia Dominguez
Size: More than 120,000 sq. ft.
Floors: 3
Year built: 1948
Annual budget: $1.6 million
Student staff: 20 (part-time)
Nonstudent staff: 20 (full-time)

The University of Texas–El Paso (UTEP) had 27 students when it first opened in 1914. But as that population grew, the university realized a need to offer a central gathering location for students. UTEP1

The Student Union Building was constructed in 1948, with just one level and a basement. Further student demands resulted in several renovations over the years. A large renovation, completed in 1969, expanded the building to have an east section with three floors and a west section with two floors. At this time, the official name was changed to Union Building. 

“The Union Building is unique to our institution because of the architecture,” said Erika Anchondo, event services coordinator. “Almost all the buildings at the university are designed with Bhutanese Dzong architecture. Though the Union Building has Bhutanese influences, it is one of the few buildings without the distinct Dzong design.”

Unique features

The UTEP Dinner Theatre is housed in the Union Building. The space was originally the Union Ballroom when the Student Union Building first opened.

“The Union Ballroom hosted all the school dances, food functions, and programming and continued to be used until the addition of new and larger rooms,” Anchondo said.

In 1987, the Union Ballroom was redesigned into the popular UTEP Dinner Theatre, which showcases student and local actors. Shows at the Dinner Theatre have included “Blondel,” “Tycoon,” and “Chess.”

Additionally, the Bhutan Lounge is named after the university architecture.

“The lounge houses a Bhutanese tapestry gifted to the university by the Kingdom of Bhutan,” Anchondo said.

Students’ role

“Our students not only play an important role in our union, but also are the heart of our department,” Anchondo said.
The union averages between 20–25 student staff members. The Information Center and Dynamite Gaming are student-run. Students also work with the gallery, weekly film series, operations, audio-visual,
and more. 

UTEP2“As for the union building overall, students are the reason we are here,” Anchondo said. “We are the center of action when it comes to student programming.”

The Union Plaza is a hot spot for students. Seating in the area is a popular lunchtime destination, and student groups often have tables in this area to promote events and organizations. Otherwise, students may be found in Dynamite Gaming, which offers Wii and X-box stations, billiards, table tennis, and flat-screen televisions.


Programming features in the union include the Union Exhibition Gallery, Wednesday Music Café, and Cinema Novo. At the Union Exhibition Gallery, the union showcases student and local artwork; usually, the gallery hosts three shows per semester. The Wednesday Music Café is a chance for local bands to perform, and Cinema Novo is a weekly movie series.

“Our movie series is unique because it is open to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the greater El Paso community,” Anchando said. “This year, our department will also begin overseeing a film series aimed toward families. Since this is a commuter campus, this program allows for families to become a part of the university programming.”

Other events include a Halloween Costume Contest and an open house during welcome week.