Diana Natalicio was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. The first in her family to go to college, she earned an undergraduate degree in Spanish at St. Louis University and then studied as a Fulbright Scholar in Brazil. Having completed a master’s degree in Portuguese and a doctorate in linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin, in 1971 she was appointed an assistant professor at the El Paso campus (UTEP). She later served as chair of the modern languages department, dean of liberal arts, and vice president of academic affairs.
Dr. Natalicio was named president of UTEP in 1988. Her sustained commitment to providing all residents of the Paso del Norte region access to outstanding higher education opportunities has helped make UTEP a national success story. During her tenure as president, the enrollment has grown from 15,000 to over 25,000 students, more than 80% of whom are Mexican American. The university’s annual budget has increased from $65 million to more than $500 million. Annual research expenditures have grown from $6 million to nearly $95 million per year, and doctoral programs from one to 22 during this same period.
This progress did not happen by accident. Early in her service Dr. Natalicio realized that, to offer her students a quality education, UTEP would have to transform itself from being a marginalized UT campus to becoming a serious research university. She has led this transformation with remarkable skill, all the while making sure that UTEP continues to serve the entire population. Her story is one of the most admirable in modern U.S. higher education. She has understood and practiced Berkeley's motto of "Access and Excellence" perhaps better than any other of her contemporaries in American higher education.
Dr. Natalicio has served on numerous educational boards including the Hispanic Scholarship Fund (HSF), Rockefeller Foundation, Trinity Industries, Sandia Corporation, U.S.-Mexico Foundation for Science (FUMEC), American Council on Education, and many more. She was appointed by President George H. W. Bush to membership on the Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans and by President Bill Clinton to the National Science Board (NSB), where she served two six-year terms, including three two-year terms as NSB vice-chair.
In 2017, Dr. Natalicio was named one of Fortune magazine’s Top 50 World Leaders. She has been honored with the Hispanic Heritage Award in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and she was included on the 2016 Time Magazine’s 100 list of most influential people in the world. In 2015, The Carnegie Corporation of New York honored Dr. Natalicio with its prestigious Academic Leadership Award. In 2011, the President of Mexico presented her with the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca, the highest recognition bestowed on foreign nationals. She was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award at The University of Texas at Austin, and awarded honorary doctoral degrees by St. Louis University, Northeastern University, Victoria University (Melbourne, Australia), Georgetown University, Smith College, and the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo Leon (Mexico).