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Paul Foster: Heather Wilson has big shoes to fill, but will carry UTEP to next level

El Paso businessman Paul Foster, a member of the University of Texas Board of Regents, said Dr. Heather Wilson is the ideal candidate to lead the University of Texas at El Paso when Dr. Diana Natalicio steps down later this year.

“We felt Dr. Wilson had the personality, the demeanor and the energy to carry UTEP to the next level,” said Foster, “She’s got a captivating personality that just kind of grabs you and a nice energy about her that just gives you confidence that she’s got what it takes to do the job.”

Wilson on Friday resigned her position of Secretary of the U.S. Air Force after she was named the lone finalist for the position of UTEP president by the UT Board of Regents. Wilson is expected to be officially introduced as the university’s new president after a state-mandated 21-day waiting period.

The 58-year-old Wilson served as a U.S. Congresswoman from 1998 to 2009 and represented a central New Mexico district that included Albuquerque. The Republican was appointed Air Force Secretary in 2017. Her Air Force biography says she served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota, from 2013 to 2017.

Foster told ABC-7 Wilson will have big shoes to fill given what Dr. Natalicio has accomplished during her 30 years at UTEP. “Dr. Natalicio achieved excellence without compromising access. You can say that the other way, that she had opened it up and created access without compromising the excellence of the education and research mission of the university,” said Foster.

Foster said he is not concerned about Wilson not being fluent in Spanish. “Our conclusion as a search committee, and as a board, is that Dr. Wilson will fit in very well. Speaking Spanish fluently is not one of her skillsets, but we felt like it wouldn’t compromise her ability to do a great job here,” said Foster.

UTEP has an enrollment of around 25,000 students and about 80 percent are Latino, according to the Associated Press.

When asked what positions Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman, will take on minority and LGBTQ positions, Foster said that when people are introduced to Wilson, they’ll get past their concerns very quickly. “I think as a Republican congresswoman from New Mexico there are probably certain positions that are not particularly consistent with a liberal point of view, or with a typical university mindset, but after talking to Dr. Wilson, she does not view this as a political job and political views are really not going to be part of what she brings to the program,” said Foster.

In a 2006 interview with ABC News, Wilson defended her belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. “Marriage is an institution we should protect and nurture. It is a union between one man and one woman, and it’s something we should honor in law and in our communities,” said Wilson. When pressed on whether homosexuality is immoral or not, Wilson said, “There are things I am willing to tolerate that I am not wiling to approve of.”

Foster told ABC-7 Wilson has a long background in the Southwest and said her tenure at the South Dakota School of Mines gave her the opportunity to execute on a mission very similar to UTEP’s. “Maybe not culturally from a Hispanic standpoint, but as far as a socioeconomic standpoint, the demographics in that area are not unlike the demographics in our area,” said Foster, “She’s dealt with a lot of students with a lot of needs, both financially and otherwise, a lot of first-generation college students.”

Foster believes the fact that Wilson is a woman is a big plus. “I spent quite a bit of time with her. I really do believe that she’ll engender the confidence and that the students and community will embrace her,” said Foster.

Wilson’s desire to do the job got Foster’s attention during their first interview. “I believe she’ll hit the ground running and that she’ll be very well received,” said Foster.

When asked why Wilson wanted the job, Foster said Wilson had successful careers in the military, as a politician and higher education administrator. “The one she enjoyed the most and found the most rewarding was higher education. She just felt like it was her calling to go back into that field and to do what she can to help educate the youth of this area,” he said.

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