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Richard Alfred Tapia

  • Ethnicity: Chicano
  • Gender: M
  • Year of Birth: 1939
  • Place of Birth: Los Angeles, California
Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics
Rice University
Houston, TX 77005-1892
Voice (713) 527-4049
Fax (713) 285-5318


  • PhD Institution: University of CA - Los Angeles, 1967
  • Dissertation Title: A Generalization of Newton's Method with an Application to the Euler-Lagrange Equation
  • MS Institution: University of CA - Los Angeles, 1966
  • AB Institution: University of CA - Los Angeles, 1961


Richard A. Tapia was born in Los Angeles, California to parents who, separately, immigrated from Mexico as young teenagers in search of Educational opportunities for themselves and hopefully for future generations. Tapia was the first in his family to attend college. He is a product of the Los Angeles Public School System. Upon graduating from high school he attended Harbor Junior College where he received the Associates of Arts degree and then continued his Education at UCLA. He received the B.A. degree in mathematics from UCLA in 1961 and worked in local industry for the next two years. In 1963 he entered graduate school at UCLA receiving the M.A. degree in mathematics in 1966 and the Ph.D. degree in mathematics in 1967. He spent the next year as a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics at UCLA and then spent two years on the faculty of the Mathematics Research Center at the University of Wisconsin. In 1970 he moved to Rice University where he was promoted to associate professor in 1972 and full professor in 1976.

He chaired the department 1978-1983. He is currently an adjunct faculty member of Baylor College of Medicine and was a visiting faculty member in the Department of Operations Research at Stanford University in 1976. His current Rice positions are Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics; Associate Director of Graduate Studies, Office of Graduate Studies; Director of Education and Outreach Programs, Center for Research on Parallel Computation.

Dr. Tapia has authored or co-authored two books and over 80 mathematical research papers. He has delivered numerous invited addresses at national and international mathematical conferences and serves on several national advisory boards. Currently 26 mathematics students have received the Ph.D. degree under his direct supervision. Due to his efforts the Rice University Center for Research on Parallel Computation has received national recognition for its outreach Educational programs and the Rice Computational and Applied Mathematics Department has become a national leader in producing women and underrepresented minority Ph.D. recipients in the mathematical sciences.

He has been featured in numerous newspaper articles, magazine articles, television programs and shows. His recent honors and awards include: Giants in Science Award, Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network, Washington, DC (1999); Appointed to the National Science Board by President Clinton (1996); Induction into the National Academy of Engineering (the first native born Hispanic to receive the honor) (1992); 1997 Lifetime Mentor Award, American Association for the Advancement of Science (1998); Received Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring Program (1996); Selected Hispanic Engineer of the Year by Hispanic Engineer Magazine (1996); Educator Achievement Award, National Science Foundation (1995); Awarded the inaugural A. Nico Habermann Award by the Computer Research Association for outstanding contribution to aiding members of underrepresented groups within the computing research community (1994); Selected Professor of the Year by the Association of Hispanic School Administrators, Houston Independent School District (1994); Named Noah Harding Professor of Mathematical Sciences, Rice University (1991); George R. Brown Award for Superior Teaching, Rice University (1991); Selected College Level Educator of the Year by Hispanic Engineer Magazine (1990); Named one of 20 most influential leaders in minority math Education by National Research Council (1990).

Professor Tapia serves as Associate Director for Graduate Studies at Rice University. He supervises a group of graduate students from all areas. He meets with the group regularly to monitor their progress. Many of these students are involved in community and Educational outreach. Under his supervision, a group of 10 students teach in inner city, minority schools including the Rice K-8 School/La Escuela Rice. In addition, many of the students accompany Professor Tapia on trips to high schools throughout the state of Texas and are able to tutor and give motivational talks to various groups of students. Through these Educational outreach programs, the minority students can retain a sense of connection with their communities and at the same time set an example for younger students.

Professor Tapia's success is also attributed to his summer programs. Under the direction of Professor Richard Tapia, the Spend a Summer with a Scientist program, sponsored by the Center for Research on Parallel Computation at Rice University, provides opportunities for minority and female undergraduate and graduate students to participate in university activities and work for the summer under the guidance of researchers at Rice. A total of 104 students have participated in the program from 1989 to 1997. Most past participants in this program are either currently enrolled in graduate school or plan to apply.

Professor Tapia impacts hundreds of teachers through two summer programs sponsored by the Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC) at Rice University. The Mathematical and Computational Sciences Awareness workshop and GirlTECH were both begun in 1989. The Mathematical and Computational Sciences Awareness workshop is a five-day workshop which gives K-12 mathematics and science teachers, principals, and counselors from schools with large minority enrollments an understanding of the current issues in mathematics and computational science. Fifty teachers per year have attended this workshop since its inception, who have in turn impacted thousands of minority students at their schools. GirlTECH teaches K-12 mathematics, science, and computer literacy teachers how to effectively incorporate computer technology into the classroom. During an intensive training session, male and female teachers also learn how to encourage more young women to pursue careers in mathematics and science. This year, Professor Tapia combined the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Awareness Workshop with GirlTECH. Twenty Houston-area K-12 mathematics, science, and computer science teachers came to Rice University, received intensive computer technology training, and explored diversity issues in the computational sciences. The participants will enjoy year-long Rice University Internet accounts and the software needed for Internet access.

The Center for Research on Parallel Computation at Rice University will benefit from a new round of federal government funding that will help university researchers develop the nation's computational infrastructure. Professor Tapia will serve as co-director of all Educational outreach and training activities for both the University of Illinois Supercomputer Center (NCSA) and the San Diego Supercomputer Center. This will expand CRPC's award-winning efforts to increase participation by women and minorities in the computational sciences through collaboration with both institutions. Successful CRPC Educational programs will be scaled up, replicated in other regions, and cross-linked, providing a social and geographical continuum of support for women and minorities in the computational sciences and engineering. The partner outreach efforts will focus on California and Texas, which include 20% of the nation's K-12 students.

Professor Richard Tapia is an active member and supporter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). He also gives many addresses to K-12 teacher and student national conferences. Among these are included the Alliance for Minority Participation, the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference, and the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching.

[Linda S. Neyra]