Diana Natalicio, the longtime president of the University of Texas at El Paso, carries baseball playing cards that photograph her in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform, wielding a bat. The playing cards list her as a five-foot-3 proper-exceeded pitcher, the person who aspires to become Major League Baseball commissioner.
As the tongue-in-cheek cards show, Natalicio, 79, is a good game with a disarming way approximately her, and those characteristics no doubt have helped make her one of the longest-serving university presidents inside the state. She has led UT-El Paso, better referred to as UTEP, for more than 31 years. According to the university’s studies, she is the longest-serving female leader ever at an unmarried 4-12 months public college in the kingdom; the longest-serving cutting-edge president, whether male or lady, of a public doctoral studies college; and the 6th longest-serving president ever for a public doctoral studies university. Most college presidents serve no more than numerous years earlier than shifting to some other presidency or returning to the college.
Natalicio stayed positioned at UTEP to pursue a -pronged approach of loosening admission requirements and ramping up studies, an approach that drew plenty of early grievances however has met with tons achievement. She will retire in mid-August, greater than two years after an almost deadly fitness scare from which she has completely recovered. In a sign of ways cherished she has come to be on campus, her hairstyle has spawned a T-shirt with a drawing of the again of her head and her hair twisted into her signature bun.
“The lower back of my head is the excellent attitude,” she quipped.
In beginning enrollment to all comers in place of adopting a selective approach to admissions, Natalicio argued that UTEP has a duty to serve its neighborhood community in place of pursuing a “Harvard on the border” intention as some bumper stickers cautioned.
Despite graduation charges which have risen drastically over the years but still path the ones of many public universities in the state, UTEP has emerged as an effective engine for upward social and monetary mobility, lifting low-earnings college students who are the first generation of their families to wait for college. About eighty percent of UTEP’s college students are Hispanic, and some commute from Juárez, throughout the border in Mexico. Although Natalicio isn’t always Hispanic, she was the primary in her family to earn a university degree, graduating from St. Louis University in 1961 with a bachelor’s in Spanish and taking place to UT-Austin for a master’s in Portuguese and a Ph.D. In linguistics.
Meanwhile, the range of doctoral packages, that are crucial to attracting studies investment, has soared at UTEP — from one in 1988, while Natalicio has become president, to 22. And this 12 months the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education positioned UTEP, with annual studies costs of around $90 million, within the class of “very excessive research hobby,” where it joined one hundred thirty different U.S. Faculties, including UT-Austin, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University, the University of California at Los Angeles and Harvard University.
“One of the reasons I desired to retain to serve as UTEP’s president is that lasting trade takes time,” Natalicio stated. “I knew that in five years or 10 years, I wasn’t going to get executed what needed to be accomplished to obtain our desires of each get right of entry to and excellence. We needed to have doctoral applications. We needed to have an aggressive school. We had to have laboratories and equipment and all the relaxation of it, which created for college kids to whom we supplied admission the possibility to succeed.”
Referring to UTEP’s coverage of open admission and its emphasis on research, Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, who changed into born and raised in El Paso, stated: “I’ve puzzled whether it’s possible to do both things properly concurrently. She’s executed better than all of us I realize in that regard. It’s pretty an accomplishment in a town like El Paso that is still one of the poorest in the United States.”
Natalicio also received over U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso. “I changed into amongst people who had been important 10, 15 years ago about the fact that the university ordinary actually anyone,” Escobar said. “I simply idea standards ought to be higher. She said we are able to obtain excellence and we are able to do it without with the exception of people. I became an actual massive fan of her tenacity and her vision.”
Accolades have poured in from other quarters as nicely. In 2017, Fortune mag named her one of the world’s 50 best leaders alongside Pope Francis, Amazon.Com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos and U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts. In 2016, Time magazine included her on a list of the hundred most influential humans inside the global that protected German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook. The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, ranked UTEP No. 1 in 2017 amongst universities which are high in both social mobility and studies.
Helping college students be successful
Natalicio’s low-key style has helped her persist in a process that requires navigating political and bureaucratic minefields.
“She has a unique capability to read the tea leaves,” stated Paul Foster, a member of the UT System Board of Regents from El Paso. “She dealt very well with all the distinct chancellors over time, the converting forums of regents, legislators, mayors or even the click. She is tremendously clean to talk to, and that’s one in every one of her great skills.”
David Gardner, deputy commissioner, and leader educational officer at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the corporation whose approval is needed for brand spanking new doctoral applications, said Natalicio is an attentive listener. “If she disagrees, she is aware of the way to communicate that during a collegial style. You understand it’s not going to be confrontational.”
Low graduation charges were a chronic task for UTEP. The six-12 month’s charge in 2017 changed into 43.Five%, up from 27% in 2002, in step with the coordinating board. During that identical duration, the number of bachelor’s degrees offered went from 1,692 to 3,373. Critics of UTEP’s graduation quotes fail to don’t forget the nature of the scholar body, Natalicio said. Fifty-six percentage of undergraduates acquire federal want-based Pell Grants, and a third of undergraduates are from families with annual household earnings of $20,000 or less.
“They regularly can’t take 15 hours a semester because of jobs, elder care and child care that more prosperous humans can lease people for,” she said. “I don’t think we need to choose students by the rate thru which they attain their bachelor’s diploma. These are young those who are surely challenged financially.”
Car hassle, clinical costs, and other costs can cause them to drop out, she stated, despite the fact that “we strive to forestall them via presenting immediately loans for any reason as much as $500.”
Natalicio’s health scare came in February 2016 as she became taking walks on campus alongside UTEP police officer Bion Bell. “I turned to him and informed him I didn’t sense properly. After that I don’t recollect something,” she said.
Bell, who saved her from falling, started administering CPR, and he or she turned into quickly taken by means of the ambulance to a health facility. She had gone into cardiac arrest, thanks to a formerly undiagnosed arrhythmia, a disturbance inside the everyday rhythm of the coronary heart. “It changed into so occasional it wasn’t picked up on previous EKGs, however at that factor it stopped my heart,” she said.
“Now I have a good time a 2d birthday every 12 months on February the 18th, and I try and do something on that day that’s exceptional from what I do on other days,” Natalicio stated. “And I always try to explicit my gratitude. It’s pretty difficult to express your real appreciation to someone who stored your life. You continually sense that what you are saying is insufficient.”
UTEP’s next chief, Heather Wilson, is presently secretary of the Air Force. She previously served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and as a member of the U.S. House from New Mexico. Some college students, school individuals, homosexual rights activists, and others opposed her choice with the aid of the UT regents, citing her votes in Congress against same-intercourse marriage and measures supposed to prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation.