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How Education Took Filipina Raised in Slums to President of US University

Dr Astrid S Tuminez drives Utah Valley University’s dual mission as both a university and community college where 77% of the students work.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   10-09-2019

Dr Astrid S Tuminez, President of Utah Valley University

Born in a farming village in the Philippine province of Iloilo, Astrid S Tuminez moved with her parents and six siblings to the slums of Iloilo City when she was barely two years old. Her parents took on the squalor of living in the slums for a simple reason: educational opportunities for their children.

Today, Tuminez, a first-generation college student, is the seventh president of Utah Valley University (UVU), in Orem, Utah.

She took over as the university’s first female president in April 2018, making newspaper headlines both in the United States and the Philippines.

“The idea of the self-made person is at the heart of the American dream. Dr Tuminez was born into unpromising circumstances, and yet by her own efforts, she is huge success! She inspires all of us,” Nidhi Singh, a senior studying accounting at Utah Valley University, told Braingain Magazine.  

In an interview, Tuminez credited education with changing the trajectory of her life.

“I was raised in the slums of the Philippines and I was 5 years old when Catholic nuns offered me and my siblings a chance to go to school. So that changed the entire trajectory of my life, and that’s what makes it so exciting for me to be in a university like UVU,” Tuminez was quoted by “Desert News Utah” as saying.

A voracious reader, Tuminez spent hours in the library, where she read about New York City and the United Nations in “Time” magazine, where she would ultimately live and serve as an intern.

Tuminez went on to graduate from Union High School of Manila and in 1982, her pursuit of education eventually took her to the US, to Brigham Young University where she graduated summa cum laude in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and Russian literature.

The momentum built as she earned a master’s degree from Harvard University in Soviet Studies in 1988 and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in political science in 1996. 

“The power of education was immediate for me. I didn’t know how to spell my name when I signed up for school. The discovery of reading changed my life completely,” Tuminez told “Diverse.”

“So the way that we invite the universe into our life, to me, that was really through education and so many doors opened for me,” added Tuminez, who is fluent in ­five languages, including French, Russian and Ilonggo.

Before assuming her current position, President Tuminez was a thought leader in the fields of technology and political science, serving as an executive at Microsoft, where she led corporate, external and legal affairs in Southeast Asia.

Tuminez now has a powerful presence in the university whether it is cheering on the Wolverines at sporting events, engaging with faculty during “Talk with Tuminez” broadcasts, or tweaking a maternal leave policy to make UVU more inclusive for women.

She drives Utah Valley University’s dual mission as both a university and community college where 77% of students work and 38% are first-generation college students. Many students are married or have children, and parents do have access to childcare on campus, she says.

“We are open enrollment, and therefore we are expanding opportunities for everybody who wants to come,” said Tuminez.

“This is a university that believes in the innate dreams and capacities of people and to build on that, to help each person make their own way but give them the skills and competencies so their chances of succeeding in life and having a good life are a bit better.”

Tuminez’s leadership has helped Utah Valley University to serve the nearly 40,000 students that attend the university from a variety of backgrounds.

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