Tapia wins National Science Board’s Vannevar Bush Award
Richard Tapia, University Professor, the Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering and a professor of computational and applied mathematics at Rice, has earned the National Science Board’s (NSB) 2014 Vannevar Bush Award.
The board presents the award each year 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. The NSB is the governing board of the National Science Foundation and policy advisers to the president and Congress.
“This is a special award to me because I played such a big role in it in earlier times,” said Tapia, who was a member of the National Science Board from 1996 to 2002. “I know many of the individuals who have earned the Vannevar Bush Award. They are indeed the premier science leaders in the country. Over the years, the selections have been outstanding. Hence, I am truly honored to be included in this distinguished group.
“In 2002, I went to the award ceremony and sat with Vannevar Bush’s daughter and two granddaughters, and I had a wonderful dinner with them. And I said to myself, ‘Someday, when I grow up, I’d like to win this award.’ I really meant it.”
“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 joined the Rice faculty in 1970. As a mathematician, he has specialized in optimization theory and numerical analysis. As director of Rice’s Center for Excellence and Equity in Education, he has directed or co-directed more underrepresented minority and women doctoral students in mathematics than anyone else in the country. He also directs the National Science Foundation-funded Empowering Leadership Alliance, which engages underrepresented minority students in computing disciplines at research institutions nationwide.
“This award is another wonderful achievement in Richard’s fantastic career — a lifetime of not only great personal research but dedication to great teaching and mentoring, and furthering the careers of minorities, in particular those interested in the applied mathematical sciences,” said Ned Thomas, the William and Stephanie Sick Dean of Rice’s George R. Brown School of Engineering. “It surely signals that the NSB realizes the huge importance of recognizing an exemplary role model and mentor for minority students pursuing the ‘M’ part of STEM.”
Tapia’s dedication to diversity in education in the United States has achieved a number of distinguished honors. In addition to having Rice’s highest academic rank as a University Professor, he has earned the National Medal of Science, the inaugural Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, election as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow and receipt of the AAAS Lifetime Mentor Award, membership in the National Academy of Engineering, the Distinguished Public Service Award from the American Mathematical Society and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. Last year he was named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The son of Mexican immigrants, Tapia grew up in Los Angeles and was the first member of his family to attend college. He excelled in math and science and went on to earn international acclaim for his research into numerical optimization methods. He has authored or co-authored two books and more than 100 mathematical research papers, and he is currently authoring a graduate-level textbook on the foundations of optimization.
The award was named for Vannevar Bush, an engineer, inventor and science administrator who led the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, and was first given in 1980.
Neal Lane, Rice’s Malcolm Gillis University Professor and senior fellow in science and technology policy at the Baker Institute of Public Policy, earned the Bush Award in 2013, and the late Norman Hackerman, a former president of Rice, received it in 1993 when he was chair of the scientific advisory board for the Robert A. Welch Foundation.