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Home » All News » The Passing of a Giant: Dr. Diana Natalicio of UTEP, 1939-2021.

The Passing of a Giant: Dr. Diana Natalicio of UTEP, 1939-2021.

Great Minds in STEM joins the University of Texas at El Paso family in mourning over the recent passing of Dr. Diana Natalicio, a giant in academia and an icon in the Texas Borderland region.  She was 82. 

As the first female president of UTEP, Dr. Natalicio was a true pioneer.  She took the helm in 1988, and over the next 30 years she helped build UTEP into the world class institution it is today.  She focused on the regional, largely LatinX pool of students.  “You draw 84% of your students from El Paso County, so you should look like the county,” she told Texas Monthly in 1998.  Today, 83% of the students enrolled at UTEP are Hispanic, and nearly half are the first in their families to attend college.

Dr. Natalicio (center) with GMiS Founders Ray and Carmela Mellado at the 1999 HENAAC Conference in El Paso.

Dr. Natalicio was instrumental in bringing the Great Minds in STEM Conference to El Paso from 1999-2001, with the university playing a central role in the planning and execution all three years.  UTEP has been an invaluable partner ever since and UTEP students consistently make up among the largest contingents at our conference.  Our partnership has strengthened through the participation at our conference by the Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions (CAHSI), which is headquartered at UTEP and led by Dr Ann Gates.

Great Minds in STEM has been impacted by the University of Texas at El Paso in another way: Three of our current board members are Miner alumni, including the Chairman of the Board, Dr. Juan Rivera:

I will never forget her wisdom: “There is no lack of intellect in underserved communities, only opportunity.” 

Armando Castorena, Chief Diversity Officer at Lockheed Martin, is one of Great Minds in STEM’s newest board members.  He earned his undergraduate degree at UTEP in 1988, and his master’s degree in 1990:  

I will never forget my wonderful years at UTEP as a student, student leader, employee and Graduate.  I was very fortunate to meet Dr. Natalicio as a student and will remember her energy and enthusiasm for me and my fellow students.  As a leader with Lockheed Martin,  I have always appreciated my meetings with Dr. Natalicio and her leadership and partnership to improve STEM education and foster fulfilling careers for graduates.

Armando Castorena (right), Chief Diversity Officer at Lockheed Martin and GMiS Board Member, with Dr. Natalicio.”

Last but not least, Rudolf C. Montiel, P.E., Vice Chair of the GMiS Board, received both undergraduate and graduate degrees from UTEP in 1983 and 1989, respectively:

I had the distinct honor of working with Dr. Natalicio on many initiatives in the El Paso community to advance educational opportunities for underserved and low-income students I served as the CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of El Paso. One program in particular on which we collaborated was establishing a scholarship fund for every student from HACEP public housing that attended UTEP. One year we awarded 128 scholarships. As one of four brothers to graduate with engineering degrees from UTEP I am keenly aware of the upward mobility education brings. Diana was a beacon of hope and inspiration for 10s of thousands of students In The Paso Del Norte region that are now reaping the fruits of a college education and that upward mobility. Diana was a friend and role model to my wife Sandra (also a proud Miner graduate) and I and we will miss her, but what she accomplished will live on in thousands of her students who can speak volumes about how her tireless work made a difference in their lives!

Dr. Natalicio was named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People list in 2016, and to Fortune Magazine’s Top 50 World Leaders list in 2017.  The Mexican government presented her with the Order of the Aztec Eagle in 2011, the highest honor given to a non-citizen.

Her impact affected thousands of families who will feel her impact for generations to come.  She will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.