Dr. Astrid Tuminez
UVU’s First Female President
Astrid Tuminez was an illiterate child living in the slums of Iloilo City, Philippines, when Catholic nuns offered her and her sisters a free education at their school. The nuns’ willingness to view Tuminez by her potential, not her circumstances, changed everything for her.
In time, Tuminez (pronounced too-MEE-nez) earned a bachelor’s degree from BYU, a master’s degree from Harvard and a doctorate degree from MIT. Her career includes jobs as a senior consultant to the U.S. Institute of Peace, director of research for alternate investments at AIG and program officer at Carnegie Corporation of New York.
On Sept. 17, Tuminez started her job as the seventh president of Utah Valley University in Orem. She is the first female president of the 37,000-student institution.
“Every day is new and exciting,” Tuminez says. “I feel like I am at the right place at the right time.”
Part of what attracted her to UVU was its focus on nonprejudicial education.
“That resonated with me immediately,” says Tuminez, “coming from the kind of circumstances where people looking at me would have thought, ‘She is not very talented, she is not worth investing in.’ I’m grateful for those Catholic nuns who immediately recognized my potential. Human potential comes in different shapes and sizes.”
Tuminez came to UVU from Singapore, where she was regional director for corporate, external and legal affairs in Southeast Asia for Microsoft. But in the mid-1980s, Tuminez lived in Utah and attended BYU as an undergrad, where she majored in international relations and Russian literature.
After obtaining her master’s degree in Soviet studies and doctorate in political science, Tuminez spent more than a decade working in fields related to her “first great passion,” Russia and the former Soviet Union. But after enduring sub-zero winters, fatty sausages for breakfast and cockroaches skittering across cheap hotel floors while working in Russia, Tuminez decided it was time for a change. She has since worked in banking (including time as a stockbroker), nonprofits, education and technology. Along with her career came a family — husband, Jeffrey Tolk, and three children ages 22, 16 and 8.
Tuminez admits she wasn’t initially interested when a friend mentioned UVU’s search for a new president. But after doing some research, she was intrigued.
“The five pillars of academic engagement, the model of engaged learning, the open admission, the non-prejudicial education — the more I learned about UVU, the more interested and impressed I was,” she says.
The university, with its technical and vocational programs alongside bachelor’s and master’s degrees, is also an ideal fit for Tuminez’s storied career and academic experience, which includes serious research, a published book and work in peer-reviewed journals.
“I couldn’t think of a place more perfect to bring this zig-zagging past that I’ve had that involves so many fields,” Tuminez says.
As UVU president, Tuminez will continue to promote engaged learning and focus on student success while improving completion rates. “We want students to complete what they came here to do, not only leaving with a degree and a piece of paper but a life experience.”
A lifelong learner, Tuminez has a personal goal for her time at UVU: Work on her Chinese. If she masters the language, it will be the seventh she is fluent in — she also speaks Ilonggo, Tagalog, Spanish, English, French and Russian. Two of her three children speak Chinese. “I know just enough to ask them if they’ve done their homework,” Tuminez says.
Like the nuns who offered Tuminez an education that changed her life, the president is confident that any student — from a first-time, four-year degree seeker, to a single mom, to a 26-year-old freshman — can succeed at UVU.
“At a day and age when everything is being disrupted, talent today doesn’t come from all the usual places that we would have thought of 10-15 years ago. The opportunity for UVU is to say to everyone, ‘Come here, we have a place for you. If you have the grit and ambition, we can help you design a pathway to success.’”