Tapia is a mathematician and professor in the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice University in Houston, Texas. He is internationally known for his research in the computational and mathematical sciences and is a national leader in education and outreach programs.
Tapia’s current Rice positions are University Professor; Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering; and Director of the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education.
Tapia was born in Los Angeles to parents who, separately, immigrated from Mexico as young teenagers in search of educational opportunities for themselves and for future generations. Tapia was the first in his family to attend college. He received B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from the University of California-Los Angeles. In 1967 he joined the Department of Mathematics at UCLA and then spent two years on the faculty 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 from 1978-1983. He is currently an adjunct faculty member of Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston.
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.
Due to Tapia’s efforts Rice has received national recognition for its educational outreach 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. Thirty-five mathematics students have received, or are currently working on, the Ph.D. degree under his direction or co-direction. Of these 35 students, 15 have been women and 8 have been underrepresented minorities.
Under Tapia’s direction, Rice’s NSF-funded Alliances for Graduate Education in the Professoriate (AGEP) Program provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students in science, mathematics, and engineering to participate in university activities and work for the summer under the guidance of researchers at Rice. Over the years Tapia has impacted hundreds of teachers through a summer program, TeacherTECH.
Among his many honors: The Vannevar Bush award was given to Tapia by the National Science Board in May 2014. In 2011, President Obama named Tapia one of the recipients of the National Medal of Science. The Gary D. Keller Award was awarded to Tapia at Princeton University in November 2005. In October 2005 Dr. Tapia was named University Professor and awarded the Maxfield-Oshman Professorship in Engineering. In April 2005 Richard Tapia was noted as one of 50 Most Important Hispanics in Technology and Business by the Hispanic Engineer and Information Technology Magazine. In July of 2004, Tapia was awarded the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) Prize for Distinguished Service to the Profession. In May 2004, University of California Los Angeles Alumni Association awarded him the UCLA Award in Community Service. Also in May 2004, he received the honorary degree Doctor of Science and Technology from Carnegie Mellon University. In April 2004, Hispanic Engineer & Information Technology Magazine named Tapia “One of the 50 Most Important Hispanics in Technology and Business.” In January 2004 the American Mathematical Society honored Tapia with a Distinguished Public Service Award in Phoenix Arizona. In December 2003, The Colorado School of Mines awarded Professor Tapia with an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. The National Atomic Museum Foundation of Hispanics in Science and Engineering named Tapia Exhibit Honoree in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October 2003. In January 2002, Dr. Tapia was inducted into the Texas Science Hall of Fame. The Texas Science Hall of Fame is a tribute to the “giants” who shape the world through their innovative use of science. In October 2001, Dr. Tapia was honored with the Reginald H. Jones Distinguished Service Award by NACME, Inc. in Baltimore, Maryland. His work at improving the representation of underrepresented groups is celebrated with “The Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing”. The conference is sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery and the IEEE-Computer Society. It is the first in a series of events designed to celebrate technical contributions and career interests of diverse people in computing fields. The symposium sponsored by the Association for Computing Machinery and IEEE-Computer Society, took place in Houston, Texas. The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) honored Tapia with the 2000 SACNAS Distinguished Scientist Award at their annual national meeting in Atlanta, Georgia on October 14, 2000. Tapia was selected for his ongoing commitment to educational opportunities for women and minority students and in honor of a lifetime of achievement in his field and of dedication to the future of young scientists. In September, Tapia received a 2000 Peace Award for Education from the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Houston. With unity of humanity as a guiding principle, the Baha’is of Houston present three awards “for education, for humanitarianism and for peace” each year to individuals or organizations for their work in serving the community and breaking down barriers of culture, race, class and creed. The awards are presented in association with the International Day of Peace, a day designated by the United Nations “to commemorating and strengthening the ideas of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.$rdquo; In May of the same year, Cornell University established a lecture series to honor Tapia and David Blackwell, professor at the University of California-Berkeley. The lecture series provides a forum for the research of African-American, Latino, and American Indian scientists working in the fields of mathematical and statistical sciences. In 1999, Dr. Tapia was awarded the Giants in Science Award by the Quality Education for Minorities (QEM) Network. He received the 1997 Lifetime Mentor Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1997, he was inducted into the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference Hall of Fame. President Clinton appointed Dr. Tapia to the National Science Board (NSB), the governing body of the National Science Foundation in 1996. He also received the 1996 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Later that year Tapia was named the Hispanic Engineer of the Year by Hispanic Engineer Magazine, the first academician to receive this honor. He was awarded the inaugural A. Nico Habermann Award by the Computer Research Association in 1994 for outstanding contribution in aiding members of underrepresented groups within the computing research community. In the same year he was selected Professor of the Year by the Association of Hispanic School Administrators of the Houston Independent School District. In 1992, Dr. Tapia was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, the first native-born Hispanic to receive this honor. Students at Rice University voted him the 1991 winner of the George R. Brown Award for superior teaching. Dr. Tapia was given the College Level Educator of the Year Award by Hispanic Engineer Magazine and named one of the 20 most influential leaders in minority math education by the National Research Council in 1990.
Tapia was asked to served as chair of the National Research Council’s Board on Higher Education and Workforce, co-chair of all educational outreach and training activities for both the University of Illinois Supercomputer Center (NCSA) and the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and co-chair of the Research Board for Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST). He is also serves as a member of The Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas Board of Directors.