Former UTEP President Dr. Diana Natalicio dies at 82


Announcement from Bill Siedhoff, Dr. Natalicio’s Brother

Former UTEP President Dr. Diana Natalicio has died at the age of 82.

Bill Siedhoff, Dr. Natalicio’s Brother, released the following statement Friday afternoon:

It is with great sadness that her closest family, friends and I share with the El Paso community the passing of UTEP President Emerita Diana S. Natalicio.

Officials with the University of Texas at El Paso published a page in honor of Dr. Natalicio, where residents can read about her accomplishments, as well as share their thoughts.

UTEP President Heather Wilson released a statement: A Great Loss for the Miner Family

It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that UTEP President Emerita Diana Natalicio, who led the University from 1988-2019, has died.

Dr. Natalicio will be remembered by many as a pioneer in higher education. She defied the critics who said it wasn’t possible to open access to higher education to everyone and still offer a top tier educational experience. Her 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.

During Dr. Natalicio’s 31-year presidency – the longest of any sitting president of a public research university at the time – UTEP’s student body began to more closely reflect the demographics of the region. The University awarded more than 91,000 degrees during her tenure and was recognized as a national leader for the upward mobility of its graduates.

Just a few months before Dr. Natalicio’s retirement, UTEP was designated an R1 research university, placing it among the top 5% of universities nationally for research.

The Miner family has lost a great advocate and leader who devoted her life to making a difference in the lives of others. Our hearts go out to all of those whose lives she touched. We mourn the loss of an inspirational leader, and celebrate her legacy of access and excellence that lives on.

Heather Wilson, President

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser shared:

“It is a sad day for El Paso. Dr. Natalicio was an incredible human being who dedicated her life to UTEP and to the thousands of students whose lives she changed for the better. I will always be grateful for her friendship and her counsel.

She made UTEP the tier one university it is today, and she made El Paso shine bright throughout the world. She will be greatly missed and always remembered. Thank you, Dr. Natalicio. I can imagine you in heaven now going: Go Miners.” 

Congresswoman Veronica Escobar shared her feelings via her Twitter account:

Today, El Paso mourns the loss of a leader, advocate, and mentor: Dr. Diana Natalicio. Dr. Natalicio was fearless in her pursuit of excellence and her vision transformed my alma mater @utep and our borderland. We are forever indebted to her.

Former mayor of El Paso Dee Margo

“I met Dr. Natalicio when she became President of the University of Texas at El Paso. She was the preeminent university president and elevated UTEP to national prominence. I thoroughly enjoyed working with her when I served in the Texas Legislature and especially as mayor.

It was an honor to award here a Conquistador Award, the highest honor I could bestow as Mayor. El Paso lost a true icon and Adair and I will truly miss her enormous presence. “

Estrella Escobar, Mayor’s Leeser’s Senior Chief of Staff, served as Associate Vice President for President Natalicio for many years. Escobar stated:

“It was an honor to work for Dr. Natalicio for 18 years. She was all the wonderful things people knew of her and more.

No matter how many awards or accolades she received, she always remained true to who she was at heart. Always striving to make UTEP the best, always steadfast in her vision of access and excellence, and always making every decision – big or small – for the benefit of the students we served.

She loved baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals, root beer floats, brats, the beautiful Franklin Mountains and UTEP and its students most of all. I am devastated, but deeply grateful to have been part of her family at UTEP and her life. I will miss her very much.

Rest in peace Dr. Natalicio, thank you for everything, and Go Miners.”

President Natalicio led The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) for 31 years, and at her retirement, had the longest serving tenure among presidents at any major public research university.

The University of Texas System Board of Regents named her President Emerita in August 2019.

During her long and distinguished career, UTEP’s enrollment grew from 15,000 to over 25,000 students, reflecting the demographics of the Paso del Norte region, and UTEP was designated as a Carnegie R1 university, recognized nationally for both the excellence and breadth of its academic and research programs.

Natalicio served on numerous boards including the Rockefeller Foundation, the U.S.-Mexico Foundation for Science (FUMEC), and the American Council of Education (ACE). She was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to the Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Initially appointed to the National Science Board by President Bill Clinton, she served two six-year terms as a Board member and three two-year terms as the NSB’s vice chair.

TIME Magazine named her to their 2016 TIME 100 list of most influential people in the world, and in 2017 she was named to Fortune Magazine’s Top 50 World Leaders. The President of Mexico presented her the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca, the highest recognition bestowed by Mexico on foreign nationals.

A graduate of St. Louis University, Dr. Natalicio earned a master’s degree in Portuguese and a doctorate in linguistics from The University of Texas at Austin. She was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, bestowed with an honorary Doctor of Science degree from St. Louis University, as well as honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from The University of Texas at Austin.

Bill Siedhoff stated:

“Diana was my closest friend; we were very close throughout our lives. We not only shared many happy memories growing up in St. Louis, but she was my eternal travel partner, often traveling the world together. My sister loved El Paso, and she chose to retire here.

She loved the weather, the mountains, the food, and the wonderful people. She had a great and accomplished life. She loved UTEP and most of all, she loved UTEP’s students. They are what drove her life’s work, and what provided her greatest satisfaction.

She always said, “Talent is everywhere,” and Commencement brought her the greatest joy, recognizing the achievement of those walking across the stage, as she proudly shook each of their hands. She was very happy here, and I thank the El Paso community for embracing her all these years, and for all the love she always received.”

Richard Adauto, Executive Vice President for UTEP President Diana Natalicio shared:

“I am deeply saddened at the loss of Dr. Natalicio. For 32 years I had the privilege of seeing first-hand her passionate commitment and deep caring for the students of this region, as well as the positive impact that her decisions had on their lives. Her legacy will be reflected in the accomplishments of all the students she helped succeed. She stood up for them no matter the odds, and you knew the odds were in your favor if you had Dr. Natalicio in your corner. She was funny, self-deprecating, and always still surprised at the many awards and recognitions bestowed on her. I will miss her very much and will forever hear her saying, Go Miners.”

State Senator Cesar Blanco on the Passing of Dr. Diana Natalicio:

I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former UTEP President Dr. Diana Natalicio. She transformed our University, always keeping her focus on student success and social mobility. She was a passionate advocate for research, faculty and the student body. As a graduate of UTEP and having worked closely with her in the legislature, I can say with confidence that she was a pillar of our community and she will be dearly missed. Generations of UTEP students have benefited from her vision and leadership. Thoughts and prayers for her family.

El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego:

“I am deeply saddened by the heartbreaking loss of Dr. Natalicio, UTEP’s longest serving President,” said County Judge Samaniego. “Dr. Natalicio’s leadership and vision to make UTEP a top tier university truly inspired us all. I recall joining her on a tour throughout the County and I was amazed by the number of former students who were eager to share their stories with her. There is no doubt that her legacy will carry on through the lives she touched for generations to come. Thank you Dr. Natalicio, you will never be forgotten.”  

Rep. Lina Ortega’s Statement on Passing of Dr. Diana Natalicio

“I was deeply saddened to learn today about Dr. Diana Natalicio’s passing. She is a beloved icon in higher education and has been a part of UTEP’s history for over 30 years. She elevated UTEP from a campus of regional importance to one with national and International acclaim. She will be truly missed.”

The family asks for privacy during this difficult and painful time. Information regarding any public
memorial will be forthcoming.

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