Originally published April 21, 2016
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 has named President Natalicio to the 2016 TIME 100, its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. The full list and related tributes will appear in the May 2 issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, April 22, and at time.com/time100.
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 is 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.
University of Texas System Board of Regents Chairman Paul L. Foster said, “President Natalicio’s impact on UT El Paso is immeasurable. 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.”
University of Texas System Chancellor William H. McRaven said, “I could not be more proud of President Natalicio for this much-deserved distinction. ‘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.”
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. Recognizing the critical importance of pre-college preparation to students’ enrollment and success at UTEP, she 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.
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 20 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 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.
For three consecutive years, Washington Monthly magazine has recognized UTEP among the top 10 universities in the nation and the #1 university in the country for improving the social mobility of its students.
In 2015, the Carnegie Corporation of New York honored President Natalicio with its prestigious Academic Leadership Award in recognition of her exceptional achievements.
In 2011, the President of Mexico presented her the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca, the highest recognition bestowed on foreign nationals. She also received the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence and the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education, was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award at The University of Texas at Austin, and awarded honorary doctoral degrees by Georgetown University, Smith College and the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo Leon.
A graduate of St. Louis University, President Natalicio earned a master’s degree in Portuguese and a doctorate in linguistics from The University of Texas at Austin.