WHEN DIANA NATALICIO WAS named president of the University of Texas at El Paso in 1988, the first issue she wanted to address was the racial makeup of the student body. “You draw eighty-four percent of your students from El Paso County, you should look like the county,” she declares. Back then, about half of the 14,000 students were Hispanic; today, after energetic recruiting, about 66 percent of the 15,176 students are Hispanic, and that does not include the 1,300 Mexican nationals, most of whom cross the border to attend class each day. Now UT—El Paso is the largest Hispanic-majority university in the nation.
But that wasn’t all that 59-year-old Natalicio set out to accomplish; she also vowed to increase the number of doctoral programs and to compete harder for research funds. “We didn’t have much self-confidence,” she says. “Our isolation was a big factor in our sense of futility at trying to play at the national or even statewide level. But we had untapped potential: Our student body, and our place on the border, made us unlike any other institution.”
So Natalicio kicked into high gear, hopping planes and lobbying for funds in Austin, Washington, D.C., and other power centers.