Heather Wilson

The University of Texas System Board of Regents named Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather Wilson as the sole finalist for the president of the University of Texas at El Paso

After an executive session that lasted only seven minutes, the University of Texas System Board of Regents today named U.S. Secretary of the Airforce Heather A. Wilson to succeed Diana Natalicio as president of UTEP.

Natalicio has served as president of The University of Texas at El Paso for 30 years and announced her retirement in May.

Under UT System rules, the Board of Regents must now wait at least 21 days before formally appointing Wilson as UTEP president.

Before Wilson’s appointment to head the Air Force in 2017, she was president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City.

Before that, she served in the U.S. Congress, representing New Mexico’s First District from 1998 to 2009 and previously served as secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

Wilson holds a doctorate and master’s degree in international relations from Oxford University in England and a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The vote to approve Wilson’s appointment was quick and unanimous, following comments by the regents.

“I was privileged to serve on the search committee,” said Regent Paul Foster, an El Paso businessman. “Sec. Wilson was a stellar candidate, and I have every confidence she will be a valuable asset to UTEP for years to come.” 

Regents finished interviewing candidates on Feb. 27.

UTEP, one of El Paso’s major economic drivers and source of pride, has enjoyed a level of stability in the president’s office unprecedented in the UT System. Natalicio, who has been at the center of UTEP’s transformation into a major research institution, is the longest serving UT System president ever.

The process for filling vacancies in the UT System is outlined in the Regents Rules and Regulations and is a highly confidential process. The names of the other applicants have not been disclosed.

In an interview with El Paso Inc. in May, Regent Paul Foster described some of the characteristics he’d like to see in the next president, one of the most influential positions in the city.

“You want somebody that’s very aspirational. The one thing with Dr. Natalicio, she was a dreamer, and she always thought UTEP could do more than most other people thought it could,” he said. Because of that leadership and that quality that she had, they actually did overachieve in most people’s view.

“So you want an aspirational leader like that, somebody that can look way into the future and kind of visualize what we can do in this community and in this university.”

Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at dcrowder@elpasoinc.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.