University of Texas Permian Basin’s 50th anniversary got off to a rousing start Monday with a celebration attended by roughly 1,200 people at the university gym.

Complete with cheerleaders, band, dance team, Ballet Folklorico and mascots, the year-long festivities were launched with the theme of Time to Fly as UTPB’s mascot is the falcon.

Odessa City Councilmember Mark Matta, acting as mayor pro-tem Monday, read a proclamation that Monday was University of Texas Permian Basin Day. Midland Mayor Lori Blong followed suit.

Freddy, the longtime mascot of UTPB, had his friend Fiona Falcon introduced Monday. The two will be seen along the sidelines for UTPB athletic competitions. There also is a new accent color — blue — to go with the power orange of UTPB.

University of Texas Permian Basin President Sandra Woodley speaks at UTPB’s 50th anniversary kickoff event Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. (Courtesy Photo)

As Chief of Staff Tatum Hubbard said, President Sandra Woodley has been thinking about this milestone for a long time. Officials said this will be a time to look back at what has been accomplished over the last 50 years and the opportunities they have to serve the region for the next 50 years.

UTPB started from humble beginnings with 1,112 students, but since then, some 16,000 students have graduated and it served more than 7,500 students last year.

“As we know in 1973, the university opened its doors as an upper-division university in portable buildings. We’ve come a long way over the last 50 years. This next three years you’ll see $100 million being pumped into this university, the campus transformation, the signage, and our first academic building, the Mesa Building, will undergo significant renovations with new technology in all of the classrooms and spaces for students … We have a lot of work that will be going on over the next three years to … solidify the impact that the university will have here,” Woodley said.

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Woodley said UTPB has had a tremendous impact on people’s lives. She added that there is so much work going on and they will take the next year to celebrate with the community.

“Our scholarship ball is this Thursday night, the scholarship ball that will provide scholarships for students. Ace Pickens will be one of our honorees. Ace was actually in the legislature that signed the bill that made the university an actual university, so he’ll be sharing his story on Thursday night along with many others. On our website,, the whole community can keep up with what’s going on for our 50th celebration, as well as hearing lots of stories,” Woodley said.

“We would like to encourage everyone who has a connection with UTPB over this 50 years to go on that website, post your pictures, post your stories. We’re going to be celebrating with this entire community all year long,” she added.

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Woodley also talked about the addition and introduction of Fiona Falcon to the UTPB spirit team.

“We have Freddy the Falcon who’s been our mascot for a long time. His best friend, Fiona Falcon, has shown up. She’s beautiful. She’s exciting and she made her first appearance today. You’ll see both Freddy and Fiona on the sidelines for all of our events. We hope the community will welcome Fiona as a new addition,” she added.

You can get more information on Fiona on the UTPB website and catch a glimpse of her in photos.

“She’s going to be a great addition to our spirit teams,” Woodley added.

Blong said she grew up in Midland and heard a UTPB jingle that said “UT Permian Basin, Your University, Your Future.”

“I remembered that as I was preparing my remarks for today. This is our university for the entire region — for Midland and for Odessa, for the greater Permian and we’re so thankful for the vision and the foresight of state leadership and local leadership to bring that here,” Blong said.

When she’s out in the community listening to concerns and opportunities, Blong said workforce challenges is a top issue. She added that she is grateful for the way UTPB, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Odessa and Midland colleges work with the local high schools to train students for the workforce and contribute to the success of the region.

Education advocate Lorraine Perryman said she thought the 50th anniversary celebration was fabulous.

“Our university is 50 years old, and since the day of its creation, it has changed thousands of lives in the Permian Basin because people can stay home and get degrees, support their families and stay connected,” Perryman said.

Blong said it was a great occasion for both communities.

“We’re excited to be celebrating with them and we look forward to the great partnerships that they already have underway with Midland College and Odessa College, with Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, and all the other educational institutions in our region. We’re really thankful to have UTPB here,” Blong said.