Saturday, October 24, 2020
  Awards and Recognitions

By Victoria Brito

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The accolades keep coming for one UTRGV professor.

Dr. Cristina Villalobos –  a Myles and Sylvia Aaronson Endowed professor in the UTRGV School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, associate dean for the College of Sciences, and founding director of the Center of Excellence in STEM Education – has been awarded the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Presidential Service Award.

Villalobos was recognized at the SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Virtual Conference on Saturday.

This is the second time Villalobos has been recognized by SACNAS. In 2013, she received the SACNAS Distinguished Undergraduate Institution Mentor Award. Villalobos has been a lifetime member of SACNAS since 2010 and has previously served on the Board of Directors from January 2015 to December 2017.

“I am honored to have received this recognition as my efforts in providing service embody the SACNAS mission to foster the success of Latinos and other underrepresented groups in the STEM fields,” Villalobos said. “SACNAS has been an exemplary model of mentoring students, faculty and professionals throughout their career paths and especially in mine.”  

Dr. Janna Arney, UTRGV deputy president and interim provost, said Villalobos receiving this distinction further validates the service and mentorship provided to students in STEM at UTRGV.

“We are thrilled that Dr. Villalobos is being recognized by this inclusive organization,” Arney said. “Through the UTRGV Center of Excellence in STEM Education, she works diligently to strengthen connections in STEM fields for our talented students, which helps them attain long-term success in their careers and lives.”

Dr. Guy Bailey, UTRGV president echoed Arney’s sentiment on Villalobos’ commitment to service.

“At UTRGV, two of our core priorities are student success and expanding educational opportunities,” he said. “Dr. Villalobos has time and time again shown her commitment to those priorities. We are extremely delighted with her commendations this year.”

The award comes just two months after the White House recognized Villalobos with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM).



Villalobos said Latinos and Native Americans represent only about 18 percent of the population in the United States but are still widely underrepresented in STEM fields. 

“Across the nation, decisions are being made regarding healthcare, education, technology advancements and policy in general,” she said. “Latinos, along with other underrepresented groups, need to provide their voice, concerns and leadership to help tackle these issues, which also play a critical role in their communities.  

Villalobos has worked to bridge the gap by founding the Center of Excellence in STEM Education at UTRGV, to strengthen STEM academic programs and increase graduation rates, especially for underrepresented groups.

To her students, she famously advises: Take the initiative.

“Take things a step at a time, but look five steps ahead,” she said. “The nation needs you to complete your studies and develop into a leader, whether in your local community, the state or the nation.”



SACNAS is an inclusive organization dedicated to fostering the success of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in their journeys from academic students to professionals. Each year, the organization honors members who have demonstrated dedication to education and mentoring in STEM through the SACNAS Distinguished Awards.


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.