Photo of Richard A. Tapia

Richard A. Tapia

  • National Medal of Science
  • Mathematics And Computer Science

For his pioneering and fundamental contributions in optimization theory and numerical analysis and for his dedication and sustained efforts in fostering diversity and excellence in mathematics and science education.

Richard Tapia on his love of cars

Attending high school in the 1950s, Richard Tapia experienced racism – but not the outward, name-calling genre of hate speech one might expect.rn rnIt was much subtler, marked by a lack of encouragement to do greater things.rn rn“I was the best math student in my school,” he said, “yet I never had anyone recommend I go to college.”

Not knowing any better, Tapia – whose Mexican parents immigrated to Los Angeles as teenagers – went to community college. There, a professor recommended he study at UCLA.

In his classes, he encountered few minority peers or role models.

Since then, Tapia, leveraging his accomplishments in mathematics and computational science, has become a champion for underrepresented minorities in STEM on numerous national boards.

At Rice University, where he has worked since 1970, Tapia is director of his namesake endeavor, the Tapia Center for Excellence and Equity in Education, which promotes diversity in the sciences and engineering.