Dr. Cristina Villalobos elected to national STEM diversity organization’s board of directors

Edinburg (May 11, 2015) — Dr. Cristina Villalobos, a President’s Endowed Professor in the Department of Mathematics at The University of Texas-Pan American, has taken her passion for helping Latino students pursue STEM (science, technology, education and math) degrees to the national level.

As a newly elected member of the Board of Directors of the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Villalobos hopes to provide more opportunities for Latinos in STEM.

“I’m proud to be representing UTPA and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley because we are one of the schools that has a large Latino population,” she said.

Villalobos, a Donna native and interim director for UTRGV’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, said being part of SACNAS can help provide national exposure for “the good things we are doing here at UTPA and UTRGV.”

She took office Jan. 1 along with three new SACNAS board members, and will serve a three-year term ending Dec. 31, 2017. She is the first UTPA faculty member to join the SACNAS board, which includes professionals in academia, industry and government sectors.

SACNAS is a nonprofit corporation that serves a community of 23,000 and has 110 chapters at colleges and universities nationwide, including a UTPA chapter led by Villalobos and Brian Yust, assistant professor in physics and geology.

The organization fosters the success of Hispanic/Chicano and Native American scientists – college students and professionals alike – to attain advanced degrees, careers and positions of leadership in science.

“Collectively, they represent the best of what makes SACNAS a unique and powerful organization and bring experience and diversity vital to board success and our collective work to advance the SACNAS mission and diversify STEM,” incoming SACNAS President Dr. Gabe Montaño said of the election results.

In 2013, Villalobos received the Distinguished Undergraduate Institution Mentor Award from SACNAS. As a SACNAS life member for the past eight years, she was prompted to apply to the Board of Directors to represent Latina mathematicians.

“We don’t have too many women in mathematics,” Villalobos said. “Across the nation, there are few Latinos in mathematics teaching in academia and in industry, also.”

Villalobos, director of the UTPA Center of Excellence in STEM Education, first recognized the need for diversity in STEM fields while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UT Austin.

“That’s where I got a culture shock, because the Valley is primarily Hispanic – about 85 percent – and so when I went to Austin, it was just very different,” she said.  “I think that’s where I learned that there were very few Latinos pursuing college and STEM degrees.”

After receiving her bachelor’s from UT Austin in 1994, Villalobos went to Rice University and earned a Ph.D. in computational and applied mathematics in 2000. She credits the mentorship of her Ph.D. adviser, Dr. Richard Tapia, a 2011 National Medal of Science recipient, for inspiring her to become a leader for women and minorities in the STEM field.

Villalobos encourages her students to pursue higher education and helps them apply to summer research programs. Many of her students have enrolled in Ph.D. programs at Iowa State University, Rice University, University of Arizona and The University of Texas at Arlington.

“I always tell students, ‘You take a step at a time,’” she said. “As a faculty member, you touch the lives of so many students and you hope you can direct them along the right path. I want our students to become leaders, whether the students are in STEM or not. We have leadership and potential for leadership, and that’s really what I want to see.”

               ADDITIONAL ACHIEVEMENTS BY VILLALOBOS:

· In 2012, Villalobos was named a HENAAC (Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation) Luminary.

· In 2013, she received The University of Texas Board of Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award.

· Helped procure more than $6 million in grants for educational, service and professional development activities for UTPA students and faculty.

· Directs UTPA’s National Science Foundation-funded Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, which financially assists students participating in research with faculty.

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