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National Medal recipient Richard Tapia talks math, diversity

Richard Tapia, whose contributions to mathematics and dedication to diversity in education won him the 2010 National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama, spoke on both topics during a recent two-day visit to Lehigh. Tapia, who holds the Maxfield-Oshman Professorship in Engineering and is a University Professor at Rice University, focused on how to be better professionals, mentors and champions of diversity in mathematics and of life in general.

In a lecture on Feb. 28 titled “Crisis In Higher Education: The Need for New Leadership,” Tapia discussed the need for supporting and mentoring underrepresented minority students in higher education. He encouraged the audience to motivate and encourage these students. And in his lecture on March 1 titled “The Isoperimetric Problem Revisited: Extracting a Short Proof of Sufficiency from Euler's 1744 Proof of Necessity,” Tapia discussed receiving the 2010 National Medal of Science.

Being awarded the National Medal of Science was an extremely humbling experience for Tapia.  Tapia reflected that, “When President Obama said that I had ‘provided a great value to the nation,’ that validated that everything I was doing in my life was correct.”

Tapia has achieved much throughout his life. 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. Tapia was the first Hispanic elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1992 and received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring from president Clinton in 1996. Tapia was also named as one of the 50 Most Important Hispanics in Technology and Business for 2004. Tapia conducts research in mathematical optimization and iterative methods for nonlinear problems. He is currently studying algorithms for constrained optimization and interior point methods for linear and nonlinear programming.

Tapia’s visit was sponsored by the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusion, the Office of Academic Outreach, the ADVANCE grant, the Faculty and Staff of Color Network, Library and Technology Services and the departments of computer science and engineering, industrial and systems engineering, mathematics, and mechanical engineering and mechanics.

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