Diversity in STEAM Magazine was proud to attend last year’s ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference, a premier event that brought together students, faculty, researchers and professionals from all backgrounds and ethnicities in computing.
The theme of last year’s conference in San Diego – “Diversity: Building a Stronger Future.”
The event, sponsored by the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and presented by the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT (CMD-IT), is named in honor of renowned computational and mathematical scientist Dr. Richard Tapia, an esteemed mathematician and professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
Among his many honors, Tapia was the first Hispanic elected to the National Academy of Engineering. In 2011, he received the National Medal of Science from former U.S. President Barack Obama for his pioneering and fundamental contributions in optimization theory and numerical analysis.
“I get a lot of awards and I appreciate them all,” Tapia said. “But I want people to know I have a professional life in science. I want to be known as a scientist.”
The aim of the Tapia Conference is to promote diversity among undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, researchers and professionals in computing from all backgrounds and ethnicities. Last year’s panel of impressive keynote speakers included Stephanie Lampkin, founder and CEO, Blendor, Hector Ruiz, founder and chairman, Advanced Nanotechnology, Inc. and Jennifer Mankoff, Richard E. Ladner professor, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington.
Tapia said he gets great satisfaction from seeing students who attend the conference inspired by others who, “look just like themselves.”
“My legacy has historically been to bring black, brown, all people together,” he said. “To show people that excellence comes in all flavors.”
Each year, the Richard A. Tapia Award is given annually to an individual who is a distinguished computational or computer scientist or engineer who is making significant contributions in civic areas such as teaching, mentoring, advising, and building and serving communities. The individual is also one who demonstrates extraordinary leadership in increasing the participation of groups who are underrepresented in the sciences.
Last year’s award went to Cristina Villalobos, a Myles and Sylvia Aaronson professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, as well as the founding director of the Center of Excellence in STEM Education.
“Cristina Villalobos is a leading mathematician in the fields of optimization, optimal control and modelling,” said Valerie Taylor, CMD-IT CEO and president. “Throughout her career, she has significantly impacted different application areas through her research in optimization–impacting areas such as the treatment of eye disease and the design of antennas.
In addition, Villalobos has strengthened STEM academic programs and been a leader in student mentoring–increasing the number of Hispanic students pursuing PhD’s in mathematics.”
Deeply honored to receive the award, Villalobos said, “It recognizes my efforts in working with students over the years to prepare them for graduate studies in STEM, and especially in contributing to increasing the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in graduate programs and in academia.”
During his time at Rice University, Tapia has directed or co-directed more underrepresented minority and women doctoral recipients in science and engineering than anyone in the country. He insists he was just able to help where help was needed. “My mother always used to say, ‘One step at a time will take you to a good place underneath the rainbow.’”