2016 Public Engagement with Science Award
Award Recipient: Richard Tapia
AWARD WINNER RICHARD TAPIA OF RICE UNIVERSITY HAS SPENT HIS CAREER INSPIRING WOMEN, MINORITIES AND YOUNG STUDENTS FROM LOW-INCOME COMMUNITIES TO PURSUE MATH AND SCIENCE. | BRANDON MARTIN/RICE UNIVERSITY
Spanning nearly five decades, Professor Richard Tapia’s remarkable career has blended world- class scholarship, admirable mentoring, and profound contributions to public STEM education. During the National Medal of Science Ceremony in October 2011, President Obama remarked on Professor Tapia’s important impact:
"Richard Tapia remembers what it’s like to grow up as the son of Mexican immigrants, the first one in his family to go to college. Today he’s a world-class mathematician, but because of those memories, he helps more young people, especially women and minorities, to get involved in math and in science. In the end, that’s what today is all about. One of the best ways we can inspire more young people to think big, dream big dreams, is by honoring the people who already do, folks who are smart and aren’t afraid to show it, but also folks who have taken that brilliance and gone on and changed the world."
The Blackwell-Tapia Mathematics Conference at Cornell calls him, “a seminal figure who inspired a generation of African American, Native American and Latino/Latina students to pursue careers in mathematics,”. The bi-annual Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing (established in 2001 and held in cities around the country) honors the significant contributions of Professor Tapia to the growth of diversity in computing and related disciplines, influencing the lives of thousands of students and scholars, and earning accolades and support from leading universities, research institutes, corporations, and government agencies, from Berkeley to Brown, Facebook to Dropbox, and Los Alamos National Laboratory to the National Science Foundation.
Professor Tapia encourages appreciation of mathematics before public audiences through conference activities, invited lectures, commencement addresses, and presentations to students and teachers. He often illustrates how mathematics is used to meet challenges in competitive sports. Over the last seven years alone, he has given his multi-media “Math is Cool” presentation to thousands of students and teachers. Targeting inner city youth, the presentation seeks to motivate and inspire them to undertake careers in STEM fields. Another talk, “Math at Top Speed: Exploring and Breaking Myths in the Drag Racing Folklore,” has been presented to thousands of young people and their mentors at universities and professional conferences.
In her nomination letter of Tapia for this award, Rice University Provost Marie Lynn Miranda wrote: "Education in the United States faces daunting challenges, one of the most worrisome being the nation’s failure to attract sufficient numbers of our brightest young women and men – especially underrepresented minorities, who increasingly make up our population – to careers in science and engineering. Professor Tapia has spent a lifetime working to accomplish the two goals of strong science and a meaningful role for women and minorities in STEM fields."
Professor Tapia has modeled the way for the entire academic community, demonstrating that what some would only label an aspirational goal can in fact be achieved.
Please click here for a list of past recipients.