Richard A. Tapia
National Medal of Science
Mathematics And Computer Science
For his pioneering and fundamental contributions in optimization theory and numerical analysis and for his dedication and sustained efforts in fostering diversity and excellence in mathematics and science education.
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BirthMarch 25, 1939
Country of BirthUSA
Key ContributionsAdvocacy For Underrepresented Demographics In Mathematics
Awarded byBarack Obama
EducationUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Areas of ImpactTheory & Foundations
Attending high school in the 1950s, Richard Tapia experienced racism – but not the outward, name-calling genre of hate speech one might expect.
It was much subtler, marked by a lack of encouragement to do greater things.
“I was the best math student in my school,” he said, “yet I never had anyone recommend I go to college.”
Not knowing any better, Tapia – whose Mexican parents immigrated to Los Angeles as teenagers – went to community college. There, a professor recommended he study at UCLA.
In his classes, he encountered few minority peers or role models.
Since then, Tapia, leveraging his accomplishments in mathematics and computational science, has become a champion for underrepresented minorities in STEM on numerous national boards.
At Rice University, where he has worked since 1970, Tapia is director of his namesake endeavor, the Tapia Center for Excellence and Equity in Education, which promotes diversity in the sciences and engineering.