OREM, Utah — Before joining Utah Valley University as its new president this fall, Astrid Tuminez traveled to the Philippines, visiting key places from her life’s journey.
“The place where you come from kind of reminds you of, or helps you understand, why you are, what you are and how you’ve become what you’ve become,” she said.
For Tuminez, that’s the slums of Iloilo, where she lived from age 2 to 14.
“Mahirap talaga ang pamilya ko, mga kamag-anak ko,” she said. “At tsaka marami sa amin hindi nakapagaral.”
But thanks to Catholic nuns who invited her to attend their private school tuition-free, Tuminez would get the chance to receive an education.
“That school was a very expensive, it was an elite school,” she said. “And once they’d opened that doorway, it was sort of unstoppable from there, in the sense that entire worlds opened to me.”
Including the school library, where Tuminez would spend recess exploring books.
“Books became my best friends,” she said. “I really, really, truly just could get lost in a book.”
Tuminez said reading and education would become her ticket out of the slums.
“It just shaped my identity and helped me realize that I didn’t have to be defined by poverty,” she said.
In time, Tuminez immigrated to Utah and attended Brigham Young University.
“Eventually, I got a student visa, and coming to Utah was a whole discovery,” she said. “Everything was new. Everything was different. But I found it to be a pretty easy adjustment. People were kind. I had really great professors. I found lifetime mentors at BYU.”
After graduation, she continued her studies at Harvard and MIT. Later, she lived in New York, the Soviet Union, Hong Kong and Singapore, holding leadership positions at various universities and corporations.
Now, Tuminez is back in Utah, serving as president of UVU, the state’s largest university, with an enrollment of almost 40,000 students.
“When I thought about my life experiences and skills, I thought that there was no better place where I could deploy all of these things that I know and do than a university,” she said.
It is, after all, a place centered around education, which is what sparked this improbable journey in the first place, from poverty to the presidency.