In 2009, Congress passed Pi Day. The Greek letter (Pi) is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Since Pi can be approximated as 3.14, March 14, 2009, was thought to be a good day for National Pi Day. In celebration of the math holiday, Hispanic Engineer dot com is featuring a mathematician who is internationally known. Here are some highlights from his 45-year career.
Dr. Richard Tapia is a professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University.
As a founding member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Tapia developed methods to connect with inner-city students and teachers.
One such method was the “Math is Cool” presentation.
Tapia was born in Los Angeles to parents who, separately, immigrated from Mexico as young teenagers in search of educational opportunities for themselves and for future generations. He was the first in his family to attend college.
Tapia received B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from the University of California-Los Angeles.
In 1967 he joined the Department of Mathematics at UCLA and then spent two years on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin. In 1970 he moved to Rice University where he was promoted to associate professor in 1972 and full professor in 1976.
Tapia has authored or co-authored two books and over 80 mathematical research papers.
He has delivered numerous invited addresses at mathematical conferences and serves on several national advisory boards.
Tapia has used his position and influence to attract students who might not consider those fields.
Thirty-five mathematics students have received, or are currently working on, the Ph.D. degree under his direction or co-direction. Of these 35 students, 15 have been women and 8 have been underrepresented minorities.
In 2014, Dr. Tapia received the Vannevar Bush Award for his leadership, inspiration, and advocacy to increase opportunities for minorities in science.
He was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2010, which is the highest honor bestowed upon scientists and engineers by the US government.
He also received a Distinguished Public Service Award from the American Mathematical Society.
In April 2005, Tapia was noted as one of 50 Most Important Hispanics in Technology and Business by Hispanic Engineer and IT Magazine.
Earlier in his career, Dr. Tapia was given the College Level Educator of the Year Award by Hispanic Engineer Magazine and named one of the 20 most influential leaders in minority math education by the National Research Council in 1990.
In 1996, he received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.
SACNAS honored Tapia with the 2000 SACNAS Distinguished Scientist Award at their annual national meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.
Tapia was selected in honor of a lifetime of achievement in his field and of dedication to the future of young scientists.
In May of the same year, Cornell University established a lecture series to honor Tapia and David Blackwell, professor at the University of California-Berkeley. The lecture series provides a forum for the research of African-American, Latino, and American Indian scientists working in the fields of mathematical and statistical sciences.
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