UTEP President Reflects on Campus’ Path to Access, Excellence
Last Updated on October 12, 2018 at 5:00 PM
Originally published October 12, 2018
By Pablo Villa
In her first State of the University address since announcing the close of a chapter in her higher education story, UTEP President Diana Natalicio drew on the campus’ history during her tenure as an outline for the path the University must navigate to move forward successfully.
In her first State of the University address since announcing the close of a chapter in her higher education story, UTEP President Diana Natalicio drew on the campus’ history during her tenure as an outline for the path the University must navigate to move forward successfully. UTEP Communications
President Natalicio delivered her remarks Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, to a large crowd gathered at the Fox Fine Arts Center’s Recital Hall.
In her address, which came five months after she announced her plans to retire once a successor is in place, President Natalicio detailed The University of Texas at El Paso’s accomplishments of the past year. Her points included another year of growth in student enrollment, an increase in the number of graduates, and the recruitment of new faculty, staff and administrators, including two new deans — Clifton Tanabe, Ph.D., dean of the College of Education, and Denis O’Hearn, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts. In addition, President Natalicio welcomed Mark McGurk, the new vice president for business affairs, and Jim Senter, the Miners’ new athletics director.
President Natalicio also lauded the implementation of the UTEP Edge, the University’s year-old student success initiative that seeks to identify and build on the strengths that students bring with them to the campus. In turn, the students combine those honed talents and skills and newfound knowledge and experiences to propel them toward their degrees and into their professional lives.
But, President Natalicio noted, the list of notable feats that occurred on campus throughout the past 12 months is so immense that the day’s remarks would not be enough to capture them. Furthermore, she said, UTEP’s major strides are part of a bigger story that could be encapsulated by a quote from Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Real change … enduring change … happens one step at a time.”
“Indeed, in our pursuit of UTEP’s vision and mission, each year’s major milestones are the single steps that have contributed to bringing about real and enduring change at UTEP, and in the lives of the students and the community we serve,” President Natalicio said. “They have interwoven to become cross-cutting themes, and they have delivered cumulative impacts, reflecting, shaping and growing our appetite to set ever-higher aspirations for UTEP’s future. That’s enduring change. The vision and mission adopted 30 years ago have been strongly validated by UTEP’s progress in becoming one of the very few large public research universities in the United States today that is authentically and successfully delivering on both access and excellence commitments.”
President Natalicio pointed at the first Convocation address she delivered as President 30 years ago as the beginning of a shift in the mindset and demographic makeup of the campus. In those remarks, she underscored the importance of access, of positioning UTEP as the tool through which the underserved population of the El Paso region could realize their higher education goals.
Three decades later, the campus’ demographic makeup — 80 percent of UTEP students are Hispanic — and its continued academic and physical growth is evidence of a collective buy-in from faculty, staff, administrators and community partners such as the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence. She said these groups have worked together to facilitate student success for the region’s unique population and the life circumstances they face.
“Deeply embedded in the UTEP culture is a constant commitment to foster access, a shared and sustained responsibility for students’ success in achieving their goals, whether completing baccalaureate or advanced degrees, or discovering a deep passion for philosophy, graphic design or physics ... or all three,” President Natalicio said. “For UTEP faculty and staff, that usually means playing a more active role in nurturing a climate that is intensely focused on supporting the achievement of students’ goals during the full span of their engagement with us. It means stepping out of our roles as faculty and staff members to see our students as human beings with complex lives, and to allow them to see us as human beings who truly care about their well-being and success. This mutual respect pays huge dividends, building students’ trust in us and in their own self-confidence, and giving us the privilege of sharing in the joy of their successes.”
But, President Natalicio said, the unique methods employed to provide students with access does not mean the rigor of their academic experience is adjusted. UTEP works to offer students high-quality educational experiences without lowering standards, providing students with excellence. The evidence of the success of these efforts comes in the form of the steady hire rate of UTEP graduates in various high-impact, competitive fields. In addition, UTEP faculty have proved their mettle through the prestigious grants and attention they have brought to the campus through the years.
“Evidence of the long-term impact of UTEP’s excellence climate on student success is clear and powerful, from accelerating their progress to degree completion and raising their aspirations to pursue postgraduate education, to successfully securing elite fellowships, admission to highly prestigious postgraduate and professional programs, and offers of highly competitive employment,” President Natalicio said.
Striking the balance between access and excellence takes a daily, unflinching commitment, President Natalicio said. It is only through a team effort that the campus has continually met the challenge during the past 30 years. President Natalicio is well aware of this notion, and she used her closing remarks — and a baseball analogy — to illustrate that point.
“Arriving on this campus as a rookie faculty member, I knew immediately that this UTEP franchise had enormous unrealized potential,” President Natalicio said. “As a new member of the team, I learned from students, from alumni and friends in the community and beyond, and from my fellow faculty and staff team members and my colleagues across the world, a process that has continued every day for the past 45 years.
“When I received a contract extension, sometimes known as tenure, and was later named coach, then manager and finally general manager, the learning curve accelerated, with exciting new insights every single day. As general manager over the past 30 seasons, I’ve enthusiastically participated in this UTEP team’s long and highly successful run on a range of playing fields, thanks to the talent, competencies, discipline and tenacity of both veteran and rookie players alike. We learned from our playbook, Moneyball, whose subtitle is ‘The Art of Winning a Rigged Game,’ and we applied its focus on the use of data to play our game, not a game invented and played out in far wealthier franchises. We’ve learned to understand very clearly who we are, whom we serve, and why we serve them. In addition to the many veteran members of our team, we’ve been intentional in recruiting outstanding new players — staff and faculty — whose decision to join our team was based on a shared commitment to our access and excellence mission; they too understand why they are here and whom we all serve. Their loyalty to our team and to the surrounding community that supports us is deep and steadfast, and their skill in playing their positions is well aligned with our ballpark, and the aficionados we play for every day. With smart and dedicated coaches and talented, hard-working and skilled players on the field, a highly strategic and effective playbook, and a determination to follow it through, we’ve learned to compete successfully and win, rising ever higher in the national standings. I am so pleased and grateful to all of you for making that field of dreams come true.”