Getting to know UTEP President Heather Wilson with 73 questions


Alberto Silva Fernandez

Heather Wilson Ph.D. laughs during an interview with The Prospector and Minero Magazine in the Hoover House Aug. 5.

Itzel Giron, Ethan Thomas, and Brandy Ruiz

The Prospector and Minero Magazine made their way to Hoover House Aug. 5– residence of the President of The University of Texas at El Paso, to meet President Heather Wilson, Ph.D., and to get to know her in a new light. Inspired by Vogue Magazine, both publications compiled 73 questions that were important not just to them but to the student body.

After former President Diana Natalicio had announced her retirement in 2018, the hunt to find a replacement quickly began. Appointed in 2019, the UTEP community only got a chance to meet the new president, Wilson, for a brief moment before a global pandemic came and changed everything everywhere. Now three years later, students are back on campus and are sure to find Wilson walking around campus. But who is she besides our university president?

Before becoming president of UTEP, Wilson worked in the Pentagon as United States Secretary of the Air Force under President Donald Trump for about two years. This job change is a total flip from working with high-ranking officials and the 45th President to now overseeing more than 20,000 students.

Having the opportunity to work in El Paso might not have been in the plans for Wilson originally, but it was something she was ready to handle straight on even if she could not celebrate right away.

“I didn’t really celebrate; it wasn’t public until the regents announced it, so no one in the Pentagon and the President wasn’t aware,” said Wilson about her recollection of the day she learned she would become the next President of UTEP. “I had to arrange to get a letter up to the President and inform people of the decision, so it was kind of a busy morning.”

Having just started her UTEP presidency during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wilson spent much of her time going to online school events or staying connected with students through Zoom calls. This inspired her to make the first year back to in-person operations meaningful.

“We believe in an engaged in-person education, and we think it is important,” Wilson said. “We also knew our students had lost a lot during the pandemic and needed to be back together and engaged and so we really increased significantly the numbers of things we were doing on campus. It is not a question of ‘is there something going on campus today?,’ it is ‘what am I going to choose out of all the things going on campus today?’”

Aside from her dedication and love for UTEP, Wilson also took some time to express her love for some of her favorite things including country music, her UTEP cowboy boots, and quite possibly her favorite thing: photos of her grandchild.

“As my husband says, ‘we live upstairs from the museum’ but we also wanted to make (Hoover House) our own,” Wilson said. “We are now grandparents and like all grandparents, we like to torture people with pictures of our grandchildren.”

Even though one of her favorite items is her grandchild’s photo, Wilson did open up about her love for aviation, including a family propeller that she jokingly mentioned belongs to her brother.

“My father and my grandfather were aviators, and my dad built an experimental open cockpit bi-plane inside our house,” Wilson said. “For 40 years there was a propeller that he did not put on his airplane, so he had an extra propeller and I always have to say that the propeller belongs to my brother. He has loaned it to me for about 40 years. So, I have my fathers’ propeller in the living room.”

The house is filled with not just Wilson family history but Hoover House history, which is seen throughout residence. Wilson talks about the painting of former Mayor of El Paso Richard M. Dudley, who commissioned the Hoover House to the furniture that has been there since the Hoovers bought the property in 1944.

“The dining room has all the furniture that all the Hoovers had here, it was Lou Ann Hoover who told me that, she is one of the surviving daughters,” Wilson said. “When she came to have tea at this table just after I arrived here, she said, ‘oh this is the same furniture’ this was the furniture here when she was a child.”

We continued to speak with Wilson about her plans for the future of UTEP, advice for UTEP students, her piloting experience and we even asked if she follows a certain social media account.

To watch the full video, go to @utep_prospector or @utepminero.

Itzel Giron is the multimedia editor and can be reached at [email protected]; @by.itzel.giron on Instagram; @itzel_anahi_16 on Twitter.