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Heather Wilson tapped as next president of UTEP

Heather Wilson speaks with airmen at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida on Oct. 14, 2018. (Source: Senior Airman Joseph Pick/U.S. Air Force)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has been tapped to be the next president of the University of Texas at El Paso.

“The University of Texas Board of Regents announced today that I am the sole finalist to become the next President of the University of Texas at El Paso effective September 1, 2019,” Wilson wrote in her resignation letter to President Donald Trump on Friday. “Under Texas law, my name will be public for three weeks before the Regents take a final vote on my appointment.”

She wrote that her resignation would be effective May 31 “upon a favorable final vote by the Regents.”

Wilson, 58, a native of New Hampshire and a longtime resident of Albuquerque, was confirmed as the secretary of the U.S. Air Force in May 2017, becoming President Donald Trump’s first appointee to head a branch of the military.

Wilson’s office told the Journal she was unavailable for comment.

But in a statement, she said she was honored to have had the opportunity to run the military branch.

“It has been a privilege to serve alongside our Airmen over the past two years and I am proud of the progress that we have made restoring our nation’s defense,” Wilson said.

She specifically mentioned accomplishments that included improving readiness of the Air Force, cutting years of time from acquisition schedules and receiving better prices through competition, repealing “hundreds of superfluous regulations,” and strengthening of the country’s ability “to deter and dominate in space.”

At UTEP, Wilson will be replacing Diana Natalicio, 79, who is retiring after serving as president for 30 years – the longest tenure of any public university president in the United States.

Wilson is a 1982 graduate of the Air Force Academy and a Rhodes Scholar who earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in international relations from the University of Oxford.

An Air Force officer for seven years, she served as a negotiator and political adviser to the U.S. Air Force in the United Kingdom, and as a defense planning officer for NATO in Belgium.

In 1995, then-New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson appointed her to be Cabinet secretary for the state Children, Youth and Families Department. She resigned that post in 1998 after ailing five-term Republican Congressman Steve Schiff announced he would not run for re-election. Wilson subsequently ran for and was elected to fill Schiff’s vacant congressional seat and was sworn into office on June 25, 1998.

She represented New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives through 2009, serving on the Armed Forces and Intelligence committees.

Wilson ran for the U.S. Senate seat vacated in 2008 by Sen. Pete Domenici, but lost to Rep. Steve Pearce in the GOP primary election. She also lost a bid for the U.S. Senate to Democrat Martin Heinrich in the 2012 general election.

Prior to becoming secretary of the Air Force, Wilson was president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology from June 2013 through May 2017.