Pledge to Educate: After three decades, Diana Natalicio continues to maintain sights in El Paso's higher education.

Author:Smitley, Shellie

When it comes to opening doors and inspiring upward social mobility of Latino families, The University of Texas at El Paso, under the leadership of President Diana Natalicio, continues to rise to the occasion.

UTEP was included in a Brookings Institution study this year that looked at research institutions throughout the U.S. It was named as the leader in equal access to higher education based on a combination of research productivity and student social mobility.

Although Natalicio was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential leaders in 2016, and this year recognized by Fortune magazine as one of 50 top world leaders, she is quick to point out that she does not deserve all the credit for the university's success.

"To me it's always the team and what we have been able to do together," she said pointedly.

It's not just the faculty and staff that keep motivation high at the university located at the heart of the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, Natalicio credits the students over the past three decades with motivating her to reach out to the Latino community she feels driven to serve.

"They were eager to take full advantage of the educational opportunities that we offer at UTEP," she said. "They were hungry for education (because) they knew how important it would be in their lives. It is such a privilege to work with students like that."

Although Natalicio is not Latina, growing up in a blue-collar community, and being part of the first generation in her family to graduate from college, enabled her to emphasize with the socio-economic difficulties that many Latino families face. Reflecting on her own experiences, she dug deep into the financial issues that deterred Latino students from attending college. It instilled a passion for opening the door to higher aspirations.

"I have always believed that talent crossed all boundaries," she said.

Latino students from area high schools, typically prone to enter the workforce after graduation, are recruited to attend UTEP. One of the major hurdles of the recruitment process is encouraging families that they can afford to have their children educated. Many parents have already lost hope.

"When they hear about the cost of attending more expensive Ivy League schools, they talk themselves out of even dreaming of higher education," Natalicio said. She too is bothered by the rising costs of education in the U.S. Although UTEP strives to keep the cost of tuition low, it is no easy feat in light of...

To continue reading