Tuesday, July 2, 2019

By Letty Fernandez

CHICAGO, IL. – Dr. Cristina Villalobos, a professor in the UTRGV School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, has been honored by the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology with the Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing.

CMD-IT presents the award annually to an individual who is a distinguished computational or computer scientist or computer engineer and who is making significant contributions in civic areas like teaching, mentoring, advising, and building and serving communities.
Valerie Taylor, president and CEO of CMD-IT, said Villalobos is a leading mathematician in the fields of optimization, optimal control and modelling.

“Throughout her career, she has significantly impacted different applications areas through her research in optimization, areas such as the treatment of eye disease and the design of antennas,” Taylor said.

Villalobos said she is deeply honored to receive this award, which also recognizes extraordinary leadership in increasing the participation of groups who are underrepresented in the sciences.

“It recognizes my efforts in working with students over the years to prepare them for graduate studies in STEM, and especially in contributing to increasing the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in graduate programs and in academia,” Villalobos said.

“I thank my colleagues, staff and students who have collaborated with me on various research, mentoring and educational initiatives.”

Villalobos has more than 15 years of experience teaching mathematics in higher education. She is the founding director of the UTRGV Center of Excellence in STEM Education, which focuses on strengthening STEM academic programs and providing resources for the academic and professional development of faculty and students, and in increasing the numbers of underrepresented students attaining STEM degrees.

Taylor said Villalobos is focused on strengthening STEM academic programs, providing resources for the academic and professional development of students and faculty, and increasing the number of underrepresented students attaining STEM degrees.

“And she has been a leader in student mentoring, increasing the number of Hispanic students pursuing a PhD in mathematics,” Taylor said.

Villalobos, who is a first-generation college graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from UT Austin, and a PhD in Computational and Applied Mathematics from Rice University.

At UTRGV, Villalobos is active in STEM curricula reform and STEM initiatives, working closely with campus programs, STEM faculty and K-12 programs to better address students’ needs.

“Since UTRGV is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, we have the potential to change the national landscape in diversifying academia, government and industry,” she said. “As such, the Center of Excellence in STEM Education at UTRGV has played a pivotal role in providing academic, career and professional development opportunities to better position students for graduate school and leadership positions.”

Villalobos’s research areas include optimization, optimal control and STEM education. Her current work with collaborators involves modelling optimal control drug treatment therapies of the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, and modelling antenna design by maximizing throughput such as gain and axial ratio.

Villalobos will receive her award at the 2019 ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing Conference – themed “Diversity: Building a Stronger Future” – Sept. 18-21, in San Diego, California.

The vision of CMD-IT is to contribute to the national need for an effective workforce in computing and IT through inclusive programs and initiatives focused on minorities and people with disabilities.
CMD-IT’s vision is accomplished through its mission to ensure that underrepresented groups are fully engaged in computing and IT, and to promote innovation that enriches, enhances and enables underrepresented communities.

For more information, visit www.cmd-it.org


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.