UTRGV’s Villalobos receives national award for scientific scholarship, STEM leadership

Dr. Cristina Villalobos, UTRGV Professor in the School of Mathematical & Statistical Sciences, on Thursday, June 20, 2019 at The Learning Center in Edinburg, Texas. nUTRGV Photo by Paul Chouy
By Letty Fernandez, Special to the Star
CHICAGO  – 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.