Her Time to Shine

Her Time to Shine

UTEP President Diana Natalicio Named One of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential

By Jenn Crawford

Diana Natalicio’s work at The University of Texas at El Paso over the past 45 years has been all about passion, determination and seeking to make a difference in the lives of residents of the Paso del Norte region.

Her hard work and leadership is now being recognized on a global scale.

TIME magazine named President Natalicio to the 2016 TIME 100, its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The list, now in its 13th year, recognizes the activism, innovation and achievement of the world’s most influential individuals. 

“I am both humbled and deeply honored to have been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world,” President Natalicio said. “The work that I have done would not have been possible without the creativity and courage of UTEP faculty and staff, the high aspirations and hard work of our talented students, and the support of our many alumni and friends, all of whom have enabled UTEP to successfully combine academic and research excellence with genuine access and equity. 

“The only doctoral/research university in the United States that serves a predominantly Mexican-American student population, UTEP is known for successfully developing innovative strategies that level the playing field for students from historically underrepresented cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. This 2016 TIME 100 recognition shines a spotlight on the capacity of urban and minority-serving universities to increase both undergraduate and graduate student success in U.S. higher education. I am grateful to TIME for amplifying UTEP’s story and our leadership role.” 

As TIME Editor Nancy Gibbs has said of the list, “The TIME 100 is a list of the world’s most influential men and women, not its most powerful, though those are not mutually exclusive terms. While power is certain, influence is subtle. As much as this exercise chronicles the achievements of the past year, we also focus on figures whose influence is likely to grow, so we can look around the corner to see what is coming.”

President Natalicio was recognized in the TIME 100 “Leaders” category among 31 global icons including U.S. President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

“President Natalicio’s impact on UT El Paso is immeasurable,” said University of Texas System Board of Regents Chairman Paul L. Foster. “She has spent more than four decades at this institution and has dedicated her life and her unparalleled talent and intellect toward its success. She has led some of the nation’s largest and most influential higher education organizations and committees, and her opinion is sought after by policymakers, legislators and university leaders across the nation and beyond. That she is one of the world’s most influential people will come as no surprise to her peers around the nation, nor to her students and colleagues at UTEP and the UT System. We are thrilled that TIME is recognizing her for her extraordinary accomplishments.”

UTEP’s leader for the past 28 years, and the longest-serving president of a U.S. public research university, President Natalicio has guided UTEP’s transformation into a national model for educating a 21st century student population. 

“I could not be more proud of President Natalicio for this much-deserved distinction,” said University of Texas System Chancellor William H. McRaven. “‘Influential’ is the perfect word to describe a career educator, and there is no doubt that President Natalicio’s life work has opened up a world of limitless possibilities for thousands upon thousands of students. President Natalicio is a national leader in higher education, particularly for her work with first-generation college students, and her innovative approaches have been replicated with great success across the country. She models leadership and dedication, and I applaud TIME for recognizing her remarkable contributions.”

Recognizing the critical importance of pre-college preparation to students’ enrollment and success at UTEP, Dr. Natalicio has been a driving force in creating community partnerships to raise the aspirations and educational attainment of all young people in the Paso del Norte region and, through a deep commitment to both access and excellence, to provide them authentic and stimulating educational opportunities. She is a leading voice in the national conversation on higher education, and an advocate for reaching past borders to develop robust international collaborations.

“I warmly congratulate Dr. Natalicio for her selection as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, a testimony to the deep and lasting ties that she has fostered between the United States and Mexico along the El Paso-Juárez border,” said U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson. “At a time when we have placed academic exchange and regional workforce development at the top of our bilateral agenda, we thank Dr. Natalicio and her team at The University of Texas at El Paso for their continuing leadership in receiving more Mexican students each year than any other U.S. university. Her lifelong commitment to open educational opportunities for future leaders on both sides of the border, along with her dedication to research and innovation, has made a difference to our countries and to the North American region.”

Sarita E. Brown, president of Washington, D.C.-based Excelencia in Education, said, “Thanks to TIME magazine, the world will now discover what some of us have been lucky to know for years. Diana Natalicio is a deeply committed and compelling leader of great influence. Most compelling is that she chooses to use her influence to advance educational opportunities for students in the Juárez/El Paso region and to advocate for low-income and Latino students throughout the country. Hopefully future educational and civic leaders will be inspired to follow her lead.”

President Natalicio joined UTEP in 1971 as a visiting assistant professor in the department of modern languages. When she began, she was reminded of her own apprehensions as a first-generation college student.

“I saw in many of my students’ faces the same self-doubt that I had felt, wondering ‘Am I really college material?’” President Natalicio recalled. “Within weeks of joining UTEP, I was sure that I had found a place where I could do for many other young people what [St. Louis University] had done for me, a place where I could pay back by creating opportunities for those following in my footsteps.”

During her long and distinguished career with the University, Dr. Natalicio has served as professor of linguistics, chair of the modern languages department, dean of liberal arts, and vice president for academic affairs. She was named President in 1988, and under her leadership UTEP has developed into a model public research university committed to both access and excellence. Enrollment has grown from 14,971 to 23,500 students who reflect the demographics of the region from which nearly 90 percent of them come. Today, 80 percent of UTEP’s students are Hispanic and 55 percent of them are first in their families to attend college. UTEP’s annual research expenditures have grown from $6 million to more than $90 million per year, and doctoral programs increased from one to 21 during this same period. 

“Through my many years at UTEP, I’ve been privileged to participate in the transformation of many thousands of lives, and my life’s work has become entirely focused on increasing access for all young people – particularly the nearly 40 percent of UTEP students who report a family income of $20,000 a year or less – and ensuring their engagement in the same kinds of enhanced educational experiences offered to their peers in more affluent settings.”

President Natalicio’s impact has affected not only the students for whom she has worked so hard, but also the faculty and staff she has inspired.

“I am extremely proud and honored to serve under President Natalicio and help fulfill her vision of access and excellence,” said Ann Branan Horak, Ph.D., UTEP director of religious studies. “I love teaching at UTEP because I know we are making a real difference in the lives of our students and our community. Her vision has been instrumental in making us the University we are today and the recognition is well deserved. She is an amazing role model for so many people – so many she will never even know or realize how she has influenced. And she’s a role model for me of staying true to what I believe and working hard to make it a reality!”

President Natalicio’s sustained commitment to provide all residents of the Paso del Norte region access to outstanding higher education opportunities has helped make UTEP a national success story. She would say it has been a team effort, but every team needs a good leader.

“During a lifetime, you’re lucky if you meet a handful of exceptional leaders; Dr. Natalicio happens to be one of those leaders that I have had the privilege of meeting in my lifetime,” said Renard Johnson, president and CEO of Management and Engineering Technologies International Inc., or METI, and a UTEP Distinguished Alumnus. “Her abilities as a leader and her power to ignite passion for education has changed the course of The University of Texas at El Paso and the El Paso community forever.” 

UTEP President Diana Natalicio

UTEP President Diana Natalicio

I could not be more proud of President Natalicio for this much-deserved distinction.
— William H. McRaven, University of Texas System Chancellor