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Remembering Diana Natalicio

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El Paso

There are many ways to measure the impact of a life, and they are often insufficient.   This is especially true of someone who lived a life with the impact that Diana Natalicio had.   There are, of course, many of the usual ways to quantify the Diana’s impact --- growth in access and enrollment, UTEP’s impressive research growth, the economic impact of this vital campus—but I am convinced her most enduring legacy will be in the hearts and minds of not only the students, faculty, staff, and community members who she impacted, and there are many thousands of them, and which of course it will—but it will live on and impact the success of generations of students still to come, the ramifications of discovery yet to be made, and continued vitality of this community—El Paso and the Paso Del Norte region. 

Like the golden poppies that climb the slopes of the Franklin Mountains each spring, Diana’s special gift will be perennial, and will continue to grow all across this region for many decades to come.  As difficult as it is to capture in words the beauty of a field of spring blossoms, it is every bit as hard to express in a few words the indelible legacy of a lifetime of extraordinary service.  But we can, and should, try.

Diana believed that talent is everywhere. But she recognized that the opportunity to develop those talents is not evenly distributed.  For more than 30 years, she worked to change that, to create a university that served and reflected its community, one that uplifted it.  And in so doing, she brought UTEP to new heights. 

Her impact was profound.  Taking the helm of our second-oldest institution, she built UTEP into a major research university, in the top five percent of all research universities nationally.  She not only increased enrollment, but she also made the university a true reflection of, and resource to, its community.  She never doubted that a public university should and could be both accessible and excellent.  In fact, she showed that an open, vibrant university can create excellence.  And she knew that El Paso isn’t a remote corner of a big state; it’s an international crossroads of culture, a dynamic center of human ingenuity and success in its own right.

My admiration for Diana runs deep.  She is the one person at the UT System I knew well before I arrived as Chancellor.  There isn’t a person in higher education in the country who didn’t know and understand our debt to Diana.   Those of us who recognize the power of higher education to change the trajectory of individual lives and communities know how deeply Diana believed this and how it guided her every day.  In every aspect of her work, that was at the core.

That’s why she was widely respected in higher education; as a scholar, a leader, a mentor, and to many, as a friend.  Her dedication to her students, her smiling face and warm handshake at commencements, her support for scholars and leaders, her advice and counsel; this all reflected the very best of UTEP, our university system and the state of Texas.    

We will never have another like her, but we can carry her with us.  We can be guided by her example, and we can continue to nurture the seeds she planted, watch them bloom, and help them grow.  I will miss Diana, but I am so thankful I knew her, and so thankful that she made such an impact on so many.  Thank you.