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Math Prof Richard Tapia Earns a Place in the National Academy of Engineering

Source: Rice News, February 20, 1992
By David D. Medina and Kristen Pauley
Rice News Staff

Richard A. Tapia, Rice professor of mathematical sciences, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering. Election to the academy is among the highest honors awarded a university professor.

Tapia was chosen for his distinguished contributions to the broad fields of engineering science. The academy particularly noted his contributions in computer mathematics and his creative leadership in minority education in the mathematical and computer sciences.

Tapia's research focuses on designing numerical methods that supercomputers can use to solve large, complex problems in science and industry, such as how to more efficiently recover oil from reservoirs.

Tapia has been actively involved in increasing representation of women and minorities in the fields of science and engineering.

According to Tapia, he is the first Mexican-American elected to the National Academy of Engineering. "While I consider election to the National Academy a great personal honor, I would prefer that it serve as recognition to the entire Hispanic community and motivation for young minority scholars," he said.

In 1990, Tapia was named one of the 20 most influential leaders in minority mathematics education by the National Research Council, a federal agency in Washington D.C. Later that year he received the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Award for Education from the Society of Professional Hispanic Engineers.

In 1991, Rice awarded him the Noah Harding chair in Mathematical Sciences and the George R. Brown award for superior teaching, which is determined by student vote.

Tapia holds the university positions of associate director for Minority Affairs in the office of Graduate Studies and director of Education and Human Resources for the Center for Research on Parallel Computation.

Computer science professor Ken Kennedy, director of CRPC, said Tapia's efforts with minority schools has created realistic options for entering minority college students.

"His most visible innovation in this area has been a series of awareness workshops, which inform teachers at predominantly minority high schools of rewarding careers in computational science and engineering," he said. Kennedy added that other schools in the country are emulating CRPC's programs.

John Dennis, chairman of the Mathematical Sciences Department, said Tapia is highly deserving of this honor. "He is the only person I know to receive perfect teaching evaluations in a course primarily for undergraduates," he said.

Dennis said Tapia has made wonderful use of leverage provided by the CRPC to increase minority participation in Rice's graduate program.

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