The University of Texas at El Paso turns 100 years old in 2014 and will mark the occasion with an epic celebration.
Keith Erekson’s job is to make sure the party goes off without a hitch. Although wrapping a century of history into a yearlong celebration is daunting, he may be the perfect person to get people excited about the university’s history.
Erekson’s an assistant professor of history at UTEP, but he isn’t strictly interested in history; he studies what makes people passionate about history and helps teachers teach history in a more interesting way.
Perhaps it stems from having had bad history teachers in high school, but Erekson, 36, began his career in the automotive industry in Brazil. He went to the South American country as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In the 1990s, he worked for Johnson Controls in Brazil, building seats for GM, Ford and Toyota, but left in search of purpose.
“It was boom times, but I had a moment – I actually remember the day – when I woke up and I thought, ‘You know, there are 1,237 more seats in the world because of me. Who cares?’” Erekson says.
So he decided to try history. He earned a master’s degree in history from Brigham Young University, loved it and went on to earn a doctorate in history from Indiana University.
Erekson, who is married with four daughters, joined the UTEP faculty in 2008 and is the founder and director of the university’s Center for History Teaching and Learning.
In 2011, he received the University of Texas System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.
Erekson is the author of “Everybody’s History: Indiana’s Lincoln Inquiry and the Quest to Reclaim a President’s Past,” and editor of “Politics and the History Curriculum: The Struggle over Standards in Texas and the Nation.”
Erekson sat down with El Paso Inc. and talked about why the big celebration is so personal to so many people, what Abraham Lincoln and Pancho Villa have in common, and what he sees in UTEP’s future.