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New dean spotlight: Theresa Maldonado

Nina Titovets
Theresa Maldonado served as associate dean of engineering at Texas A&M prior to being hired by UTEP.

UTEP’s College of Engineering will have a new dean this coming semester with Theresa Maldonado filling the role for more than 4,000 students in the college.

She will also serve as a professor of electrical engineering. Maldonado has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Before becoming a part of higher education she worked as an engineer at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Her experience in higher education includes being an associate dean of engineering at Texas A&M, founding senior vice president for research, innovation and economic development at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and director at the National Science Foundation.

Although Maldonado is new to UTEP and El Paso, having only been twice, she is more than ready for her new position and everything El Paso has to offer.

“In recent years, I had been to the campus twice. In the last two years, when I was at my previous university, there were meetings held here by the UT System and by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas,” Maldonado said. “I went ‘oh god, look at this campus,’ so I had never really been on the campus. I saw it on the web and things like that, but it is a special university really.”

She came across the position opening through word of mouth and it was President Natalicio’s work that had motivated her to apply.

“I’ve known about UTEP since I started out in higher education in 1990, but I never have applied to UTEP. I’ve known about the president–she’s nationally known, I know people in engineering and people in science through my other work in Washington,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado’s military upbringing required her to move a lot, so adjusting to different environments comes as second nature to her. She has made it a point to learn as much about the UTEP community as possible before diving in and changing things.

“One of the first things a person should do when they move to a new environment is to really take the time to understand the local culture, the work environment of the community and not just come in and try to make changes without the context of where you’re at,” she said. “I’m talking to a lot of people around the campus, students, administrators, faculty, department heads of course, and then seeing how I can frame ideas I have about moving forward within this context, very important to do. You can’t come in and just change in any disruptive way because it impacts people.”

Maldonado also said that despite being new to UTEP, her transition has been an easy experience. She has her previous work in academia to thank for that.

“I’ve been in academia since 1990 and I’ve worked in the industry before that. So this has been one of my easiest transitions to be honest, but I have a lot to learn, I don’t take it for granted that I felt very comfortable here,” Maldonado said.

She has no hesitation or worries about filling her role as dean. Previous experience has helped prepare her for anything she may have to face. It also comes easy for her transitioning from a large school to a smaller one.

“That college of engineering (Texas A&M) has 12 departments, we (UTEP) have seven. The enrollment for engineering over there is approaching 13,000 just in the college of engineering and here it’s 3,500,” Maldonado said. “Those 12 years have prepared me for a lot of different opportunities. I feel like I can adapt to those departments, I’ve been in those roles before.”

Her lengthy resume and positions in larger colleges serves as a great advantage to her at UTEP. Maldonado is also looking beyond the classroom when it comes to the College of Engineering, hoping to expand on more than just education.

“The opportunity for one-on-one interaction is greater here because it is smaller. The demographic is different here. I’m comfortable because I’m Mexican-American Hispanic myself,” Maldonado said. “I read a lot and think about how students of today can become successful in this crazy, rapidly changing world. We need to prepare the students not only for their coursework, but also how to contribute to a dynamic society out there that’s complicated. I think I’m prepared for that.”

Maldonado has made time to meet with her department staff, often going beyond their scheduled meeting time when meeting with them individually. She has taken the time to personally meet with them to help them improve in their leadership roles and challenging the students.

“Students education includes not only the coursework, but also engineering research opportunities and how students can understand how their coursework integrates into their daily activities. Engineering studies can go into different career trajectories. It’s actually a small percentage of engineer graduates that stay in engineering,” she said. “But we have the preparation to do a lot of different things, and so I’m going to stretch the department heads thinking about how we approach our research, education, interaction with the students, and how we place the students in industry or other jobs.”

After getting familiar with UTEP, Maldonado is excited to call the school her new home.

“Everything has been positive surprises,” she said. “There’s a lot more capacity here as far as laboratories, students are eager to learn. I’ve come across students more at Texas A&M that take it for granted there and I have not met a single student here that took it for granted. They want to be here and they want to work hard. That’s a competitive advantage, to have that mindset. We’re going to do good things for the students. You can go to the more affluent schools, but you’ll find a lot more students take it for granted and they don’t necessarily become successful in their lives with that mindset, but when there’s hunger in learning and achieving like I see here, we’re gonna do great things.”

Maldonado is excited to be working at UTEP and to assume the role of dean for one of UTEP’s most successful colleges.

“I finally get to work with Dr. Natalicio. I’ve heard about her for a long time. She’s globally known in higher education and there are lots of very important special moving parts here that we can put together for even more special important things that are happening right now,” Maldonado said. “I’m eager to roll up my sleeves, I’m really happy to be here.”

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About the Contributor
Leslie Sarinana
Leslie Sarinana, Copy Editor
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New dean spotlight: Theresa Maldonado