Cornell University establishing lecture series to honor work of African-American, Latino and American-Indian scientists

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David Blackwell
Richard Tapia

Cornell University is establishing a lecture series to honor two of the nation's most eminent mathematicians, David Blackwell of the University of California at Berkeley and Richard Tapia of Rice University. The lectures will provide a forum for the research of African-American, Latino and American-Indian scientists working in the fields of mathematical and statistical sciences.

On May 7 and 8, a conference will be held on the Cornell campus to inaugurate the series, to be called the David Blackwell and Richard Tapia Distinguished Lecture Series in the Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Both Blackwell, who is professor emeritus of mathematics at U.C. Berkeley, and Tapia, who is the Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice, will attend the event, which will conclude with a banquet in their honor.

One of the organizers, Carlos Castillo-Chavez, director, Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute and professor of biomathematics at Cornell says, "We feel that it is critically important that current and future generations of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, as well as current and future generations of non-minorities, learn and remember the achievements of these two extraordinarily talented and productive mathematicians. The establishment of this lecture series also recognizes their continuous efforts in creating, supporting and maintaining opportunities for minority scientists, statisticians and mathematicians across the nation."

Events at Cornell to celebrate the inauguration of the program will include lectures by a number of distinguished speakers, including Tapia; Persi Diaconis, the Mary V. Sunseri Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Stanford University; Michael Todd, the L.C. Welch Professor of Operations Research and Industrial Engineering at Cornell; and Susan Holmes, visiting associate professor in statistics at Stanford. The subject of underrepresented minorities in academia will be

addressed by Albert Bridgewater, senior science adviser at the National Science Foundation, and Denise Stephenson-Hawk, provost of Spelman College. The contributions of Blackwell and Tapia to the education of African Americans and Latinos will be discussed by James Donaldson, dean of arts and sciences at Howard University, and Margaret Wright, head of the scientific computing research department at Bell Labs, the research and development arm of Lucent Technologies. In addition, lectures will be given by 12 minority graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

Blackwell completed his graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1941. He taught at Southern University, Clark College and Howard University, where he was chairman of the mathematics department before joining the faculty of U.C. Berkeley in 1954. He has contributed to several areas of mathematics: set theory, measure theory, probability theory, statistics, game theory, and dynamic programming. His name is attached to a theorem in statistics, the Rao-Blackwell theorem, which is important in estimation theory and tests of hypotheses. He is an author of the classic book Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions.

Blackwell was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1965. He also is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Tapia, born in Los Angeles to parents who immigrated from Mexico as teenagers, received his Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1994, he was the first native-born Hispanic to be inducted into the National Academy of Engineering. He has contributed to mathematical optimization theory and iterative methods for nonlinear problems. His current research is in the area of algorithms for constrained optimization problems and interior-point methods for linear and nonlinear programming.

Under Tapia, the computational and applied mathematics department at Rice has become a national leader in promoting women and minority Ph.D. recipients in the mathematical sciences

The new lecture series is being established at the intiative of Don Randel, Cornell provost; Robert Harris Jr., Cornell vice provost for diversity and faculty development and professor of Africana studies; and Chavez. The series, which will provide an honorarium of $1,000 for the guest lecturer, also is being established with the encouragement of Cornell President Hunter Rawlings.