Diana Natalicio, the former president of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and one of the most influential leaders in higher education, died on September 24, 2021, at the age of 82. Her death was confirmed by her brother, Bill Siedhoff, who did not indicate the cause of death. However, according to some sources, Natalicio had been battling cancer for several years and had undergone chemotherapy treatments. She had also suffered a stroke in 2017, which affected her speech and mobility. Natalicio’s death was mourned by many people who admired her legacy and achievements at UTEP and beyond.
Natalicio’s Life and Career
Natalicio was born as Diana Siedhoff in St. Louis, Missouri, on August 25, 1939. She was the daughter of a small business owner and a homemaker. She attended Saint Louis University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. She then received a Fulbright scholarship to study in Brazil, where she met her ex-husband, Luiz Natalicio. She completed a master’s degree in Portuguese and a doctorate in linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin.
Natalicio joined UTEP in 1971 as an assistant professor of modern languages. She later became the chair of the department, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and the vice president of academic affairs. In 1988, she was appointed as the 10th president of UTEP, becoming the first woman to hold the position. She served as the president for 31 years, until her retirement in 2019. She was the longest-serving president of a major public research university in the United States.
Natalicio transformed UTEP into a nationally recognized institution that served the needs and aspirations of the predominantly Hispanic and low-income population of the El Paso region. She increased the enrollment, retention, and graduation rates of UTEP students, especially those from underrepresented groups. She also enhanced the quality and diversity of UTEP’s academic programs, faculty, and research. She raised the university’s budget from $65 million to over $400 million, and its research expenditures from $6 million to over $90 million. She also oversaw the construction and renovation of many campus facilities, including the Centennial Plaza, the Engineering and Science Complex, and the Sun Bowl Stadium.
Natalicio received numerous awards and honors for her leadership and vision. She was named to Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people in 2016. She received the Clark Kerr Award for Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education in 2019. She was also inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, the El Paso Women’s Hall of Fame, and the National Academy of Education. She received honorary degrees from several universities, including Georgetown University, Smith College, and the University of Notre Dame. She was also appointed by President Barack Obama to the Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the National Science Board.
Natalicio’s Legacy and Impact
Natalicio’s death was met with sadness and gratitude by many people who knew her or were inspired by her. UTEP President Heather Wilson said, “The Miner family has lost a great advocate and leader who devoted her life to making a difference in the lives of others. Our hearts go out to all of those whose lives she touched. We mourn the loss of an inspirational leader, and celebrate her legacy of access and excellence that lives on.” El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said, “Dr. Natalicio was an incredible human being who dedicated her life to UTEP and to the thousands of students whose lives she changed for the better. She made UTEP the tier-one university it is today, and she made El Paso shine bright throughout the world. She will be greatly missed and always remembered.”
Natalicio’s legacy will live on through the many students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members who benefited from her efforts and guidance. She will also be remembered as a trailblazer, a role model, and a champion for higher education, especially for Hispanic and low-income students. She will be honored by UTEP with a memorial service and a scholarship fund in her name. She will also be commemorated by the Mining Minds sculpture, which will be illuminated in blue and orange for 31 days to represent her years of leadership at UTEP. Natalicio’s motto, “Dream big, work hard, and achieve your goals,” will continue to inspire generations of UTEP Miners and beyond.