Adam Fondren, Deseret News
Astrid S. Tuminez smiles to the crowd at the public meeting of the Board of Trustees where she is introduced as the seventh President of Utah Valley University in Orem on Friday, April 20, 2018.

Utahns are fortunate to cap off Women’s History Month with some local history-making of their own when Astrid S. Tuminez is officially inaugurated this week as Utah Valley University’s first female president.

She deserves the post. Both her professional background as a Microsoft regional director for Southeast Asia and the long list of her own educational achievements qualify her to run a school that serves more than 39,000 students.

After immigrating to the U.S. in 1982, Tuminez received a degree from Brigham Young University, a graduate degree from Harvard and a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But it’s her belief in her pupils that may have the largest effect on those who pass through the institution. “We are the university that says come as you are. I use that phrase a lot and I mean that phrase when I say it,” Tuminez told the Deseret News.

Her passion likely reflects her own experience being raised in the slums of the Philippines and receiving a chance to go to school at age 5 after meeting two Catholic nuns who invited her and her siblings to their convent school.

She embodies the kind of grit UVU students have become known for. Tuminez achieved extraordinary heights in diverse career and education opportunities, not because she came from wealth or privilege, but because she tenaciously went after every opportunity or obstacle with a willingness to do whatever it took, learn whatever she needed to know and challenge the status quo.

That “come as you are” attitude opens up new worlds for thousands who might never have believed stepping inside a college was a possibility. To Tuminez, student success isn’t just walking out with a degree; it means engaging in the holistic learning experience. A student studying mechatronics, for instance, shouldn’t be content with tech classes only, but should also find value in modern art, theater or English literature.

For a country straining to help more kids get to college, UVU’s model should stand out.

The open enrollment design ensures a place for anyone to expand their knowledge and start a track to a fulfilling career. Nearly 2 of every 5 students at UVU are the first in their families to attend college, and about a third of its students are older than 25.

The Career Pathways program also creates a pipeline connecting high school studies, technical training and a four-year degree, making UVU one of the few universities in the nation that offers a dual-mission approach to crafting an education designed by the needs of the students. “It addresses inclusion in a big way at a time when the world and societies are polarized and socio-economic differences are becoming bigger and bigger,” Tuminez said.

Her presidency is also historical for another reason: Half of Utah’s public colleges are now led by women.

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Tuminez joins Deneece Huftalin, president of Salt Lake Community College; Ruth Watkins, president of the University of Utah; and Noelle Cockett, president of Utah State University. Add to that list Bethami Dobkin, president of Westminster College, and the five female presidents create a powerful image of leadership in the state.

Wednesday’s inauguration should cement for Utahns what Tuminez and her fellow female presidents already live. Says Tuminez, “We have to be inspired and fearless and then step up when the opportunity comes. It's not the work of one or two or three or four women. It's the work of all of us.”