Rice University mathematician Richard Tapia will be honored with the Hispanic Heritage Award for Math and Science today at the star-studded 22nd Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards ceremony on Capitol Hill.
Tapia, University Professor, the Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering and director of Rice’s Center for Excellence and Equity in Education, is internationally known for his research in the computational and mathematical sciences and is a national leader in education and outreach.
Today’s ceremony at the Senate Russell Building will feature presentations by members of Congress and a dynamic stage production with performances by top Latino artists. Tapia will join six other award winners, including New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez, artist Romero Britto, boxer Oscar de la Hoya, singer Olga Tañon, rock band Maná and animated television star Dora the Explorer, namesake of the award-winning PBS television series for children.
Created in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan and the White House to commemorate the creation of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Hispanic Heritage Awards have grown into one of the nation’s most prestigious national honors and events. Past awardees include New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, television journalist Soledad O’Brien, actress Rita Moreno and author Sandra Benítez. The awards are presented annually by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) and sponsored by ExxonMobil.
“There is a component of going to this ceremony that’s really important,” Tapia said. “This award isn’t just for me. I’m going for the group I represent and for the things I care about, which are outreach, K-12 education, diversity and students. Somebody recognized that I’ve done things of high value, even if they’re not high visibility, and that means a great deal to me.”
Tapia, born in Los Angeles to parents who emigrated from Mexico as teenagers to seek educational opportunities, was the first in his family to attend college. He has authored or co-authored two books and more than 100 mathematical research papers and was the first native-born Hispanic elected to the National Academy of Engineering. In 2005, he earned Rice’s highest academic title, University Professor, becoming only the sixth person to earn the rank at Rice.
Tapia is known at Rice and beyond as a crusader for the advancement of minorities, and for his efforts was honored recently by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.