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A glimpse into the life of President Dr. Heather Wilson

Gianluca Cuevas
President Dr. Heather Wilson stated she enjoys listening to Taylor Swift.

With dedication and a love for aviation, UTEP President Dr. Heather Wilson has begun to leave her mark at the university since her start as the president in 2019. UTEP students may know the hardworking president as someone who brought in an era of innovative research and growth, but there is more lying beneath her stylish suits.  

Dr. Wilson painted a picture for The Prospector as to what her life was like growing up. As planes flew around her in a dairy farm field, someone she admired dearly was also flying above her, her dad and his best friend a small Piper Cub plane. 

“I can remember my dad taking us flying when he had to put a pillow in the front seat of a Piper Cub, which is a small airplane, to be able to see out, and he would start the propeller and take us flying and his friend would as well,” Wilson said. “So, I never remember not flying.”    

Wilson’s grandfather flew for the Royal Air Force in World War One (WWI) and was a barnstormer in the 1920’s and 30’s and opened small airports around New England. After her dad passed away when she was younger, Wilson saw her grandfather as a hero and a significant figure in her life.   

During President Wilson’s time as a junior in high school, the U.S Air Force Academy began to admit women it is when she saw the news on her mother’s black-and-white television screen, she was intrigued and interested in joining the Air Force.  

Throughout her time in the academy, Dr. Wilson was the first woman to command basic training and the first woman as Vice Wing Commander. Having roles with high responsibilities and pressure did not stop Wilson from getting the job done and proving to people at the time women belonged in the military. 

“I think I was aware that they were certainly people, there not so much my classmates, but sometimes other officers who weren’t exactly convinced women should be in the military, or they should be officers, and I ran into that,” Wilson said. “I was determined to prove them wrong by being competent, and I knew somehow that I was also maybe changing the minds of people around me by just doing the job and that it would be easier for others who came after me.” 

From her time in the military, Wilson learned many lessons that stuck with her, but one has never left her side; the core values of the Air Force ‘Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do’.

President Dr. Heather Wilson and Erik Acosta share a laugh together. (Gianluca Cuevas)

“I think the other one from the academy is the honor code, ‘We will not lie, steal or cheat nor tolerate among us who does’ that sticks with you,” Wilson said. “The hard part is not the lying, stealing, or cheating bit, it is that we will not tolerate anyone who does, so if we know something is wrong you have to speak up. I think those things shaped me as a young person, and I think they still do today.” 

In the Air Force until 1989, Wilson’s call to service did not end there as her career path would then go in a different trajectory than she would have thought.   

Wilson was in the realm of politics when her predecessor, Rep. Steve Schiff for New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, passed away from skin cancer in 1998 where she later won the special election that same year to fill his position. 

Wilson remained in congress for 11 years and was the first female military veteran to have a full term in Congress. She would later run for U.S. Senate for New Mexico in 2008 and 2012 but lost those elections but Dr. Wilson did not let that defeat her. 

“I had just lost a race for the United States Senate, one of the highest profile races in the country, but it didn’t even occur to me that was a failure because I didn’t think of it that way,” Wilson said.   

Despite her passion for policy, Wilson would have yet another call in assisting students in higher education. From the dry southwest to the frigid winters of South Dakota, Wilson became the president of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T) in 2013. A position she kept until 2017 when she became Secretary of the United States Air Force. 

“South Dakota Mines was much smaller; I like the research mission here a lot (UTEP), but they are very different universities,” Wilson said. “The one thing that I liked about South Dakota, cause it was smaller, I had more interaction with the students, and I did like that. While there are more students here, I don’t get to interact with so many of them all the time because it’s bigger, so I have to make a point to always stay connected to the students and that’s important to me.” 

In her fourth year of presidency, UTEP has formed stronger relations with NASA, seen increased enrollments, abundance of research grants and more. As the year winds down, she continues to connect with students and showcase the accomplishments at UTEP.    

“It’s been a wonderful year, it has been, and I get to be the number one cheerleader for a great university,” Wilson said. “People accomplish things, and part of my job is to point those things out.”   

Passionate about her job and leading students to the future, Wilson does not seem to see her career stopping anytime soon, as she sees herself ten years from now working and active in the community. Though she has made UTEP and El Paso her new home, the Sun City continues to welcome her with open arms and Wilson likes to think that the man flying above her in his Piper Cub plane would be proud of the person she turned out to be.  

Erik Acosta is the web and copy editor and may be reached at [email protected] 

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About the Contributors
Erik Acosta
Erik Acosta, Editor-in-Chief
Erik Acosta is the editor-in-chief for The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in multimedia journalism with a minor in theatre. He plans to pursue a career in broadcast journalism and print with hopes of working at LA times, Washington Post and ABC News.
Gianluca Cuevas
Gianluca Cuevas, Photographer
Gianluca Cuevas is a staff photographer for The Prospector. He is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in mathematics. He plans to work in the automotive industry designing cars/mechanic in the F1. He also has his small photography business 365elements which he plans to continue to grow.
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    Tony LorussoDec 14, 2023 at 2:48 PM

    I had the honor of knowing Dr. Wilson when we were cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Even in those early years of our professional development, it was clear that she was destined for greatness. UTEP is fortunate to have a president with her talents.