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School of Mines names Wilson as new president

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) -- Businesswoman and former New Mexico congresswoman Heather Wilson has been named president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the state Board of Regents announced Thursday.

Wilson, 51, succeeds Robert Wharton, who died in September. She'll begin her duties on the Rapid City campus in June.

Wilson represented New Mexico in the U.S. Congress from 1998 to 2009, serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and as chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence.

Wilson, who comes from a family of pilots, is an Air Force Academy graduate and Rhodes scholar who has been a defense consultant since leaving the House. Through her Albuquerque business, Wilson has worked as a senior adviser to top-tier national laboratories such as Sandia, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, the Nevada Test Site and the Battelle Memorial Institute.

She turned down a top management post at Sandia National Laboratories to make a second unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate last year.

Wilson won a special election in 1998 to replace the late GOP Rep. Steve Schiff. She developed a reputation as a tough campaigner by repeatedly winning re-election in a swing district targeted by national Democrats.

She gave up that seat in 2008 to run for the seat of her retiring mentor, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., but lost in a knuckle-biting primary. She ran again last year for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., but lost to Democrat Martin Heinrich, who preceded her in the House, in a pro-Democrat, pro-Obama tide.

Duane Hrncir, the South Dakota School of Mines' provost and vice president for academic affairs on the Mines, has served as acting president in the interim.