Public Release: 

Richard Tapia, mathematician and mentor, receives 2014 Vannevar Bush Award

Rice University professor is role model and mentor for minorities in science, engineering and mathematics

National Science Foundation


IMAGE: Richard Tapia is a mathematician in Rice University's Computational and Applied Mathematics Department. His research on computational optimization is highly regarded, as is his strong support of women and minorities... view more

Credit: Rice University

Today the National Science Board (NSB) announced that mathematician Richard Tapia, a leader in mentoring minorities in science, engineering and mathematics fields, is the 2014 recipient of its Vannevar Bush Award.

Tapia is a mathematician in Rice University's Computational and Applied Mathematics Department. His research on computational optimization is highly regarded, as is his strong support of women and minorities in the sciences.

"In addition to his distinguished contributions to mathematics, Richard Tapia has shown extraordinary leadership in increasing opportunities for underrepresented minorities in science and mathematics," said Ruth David, Chair of the NSB's Committee on Honorary Awards. "His long-term commitment and success sharing the excitement and relevance of mathematics and computer science with inner-city high school students and other members of the public is inspirational."

Tapia was the first in his family to attend college. His parents emigrated separately from Mexico as teenagers seeking educational opportunities for themselves and future generations. Tapia earned his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from the University of California, Los Angeles and was on the faculty of UCLA as well as the University of Wisconsin before coming to Rice University in 1970.

As chair of Rice's Computational and Applied Mathematics department in the late 70s and early 80s, Tapia worked to bring women and minority graduate students to the department. Due in large part to his efforts, Rice University has become a national leader in producing women and underrepresented minority Ph.D.s in the mathematical sciences.

A founding member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science, Tapia also developed creative ways to reach inner-city students and teachers. His "Math is Cool" presentation is designed to spark interest in careers in math and science.

Among his many accolades, Tapia is a 2010 awardee of the National Medal of Science, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on scientists and engineers. He also received the Distinguished Public Service Award from the American Mathematical Society and the Association of Hispanic School Administrators honored him with its "Professor of the Year" award. Tapia is also an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering.

"Throughout my entire professional life I have had the greatest respect for the National Science Board's Vannevar Bush Award," said Tapia. "The individuals selected for this award represent the nation's finest and most effective science leaders. Hence it gives me great pride and happiness to be included in such a distinguished group."

NSB will present Tapia with the Vannevar Bush Award on May 6, 2014, during the National Science Foundation/NSB Annual Awards Ceremony held in Washington, DC. The Board initiated the award in 1980 in memory of Vannevar Bush, who helped establish federal funding for science and engineering as a national priority and played a pivotal role in the creation of the National Science Foundation. NSB's Vannevar Bush Award goes to exceptional, lifelong leaders in science and technology who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation through public service activities in science, technology and public policy. Past award recipients include Leon Lederman (Fermilab), Shirley Ann Jackson (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), and David Packard (Hewlett-Packard Company).


About the National Science Board

The National Science Board (NSB) is the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation. NSB also advises the President and Congress on science and engineering policy issues. The Board's 24 members are drawn primarily from universities and industry and represent a variety of science and engineering disciplines. Selected for their eminence in research, education or public service and records of distinguished service, Board members serve six-year terms. NSF's Director is an ex officio 25th member of the Board. Visit NSB's website for more information.

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