Heather Wilson, the University of Texas at El Paso’s first new president in three decades, addressed members of the media and took questions Monday as the 2019 fall semester got underway.
She told reporters there has been a slight enrollment increase at the university over last year and expressed a desire to build on UTEP’s existing strengths to ensure it remains an academic leader in the region. She noted that in just the past four months, UTEP has been awarded up to $39 million in research grants.
“I came to a university as president that’s in very good shape,” she said. “There are universities around the country that get a new president because there’s been some type of a crisis or financial problem or mishandled or something — and that’s not UTEP. I’m here because this is a great university and then together we’re going to figure out how to make it even better.” (Watch her full remarks in the video player below.)
Wilson, who just assumed the UTEP presidency on Aug. 15, is being paid $500,000 a year with no fixed term in the role.
The University of Texas System Board of Regents unanimously approved her hiring earlier this year despite local and state-level uproar about her past positions on LGBTQ issues.
As a result of the controversy, Wilson has pledged to make all students feel included and respected. And in the wake of the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, Wilson said Monday that campus security is a top priority for her.
“A lot of us are attentive to the need to make this university a safe place to be, and one of the first briefings I had was with our campus safety and security,” she told reporters.
Prior to coming to UTEP, Wilson served as the Secretary of the United States Air Force from 2017 through 2019. She was also the president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology from 2013 to 2017. And Wilson represented the state of New Mexico in Congress for a decade.
The granddaughter of immigrants, Wilson was the first person in her family to attend college. She graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in the third class to admit women and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in international relations from Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar.