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Dr. Cristina Villalobos recognized nationally for excellence in STEM education
Posted: 12/10/2012
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Dr. Cristina Villalobos, associate professor of mathematics at The University of Texas-Pan American, was recognized as a HENAAC (Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation) Luminary for her contributions to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and promotion of STEM careers.

- Dr. Cristina Villalobos
Villalobos, who also directs UTPA's Center for Excellence in STEM (C-STEM), was one of only 18 Hispanic professionals recognized nationwide, and the only honoree from higher education, at the HENAAC's Great Minds in STEM Education conference held in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Other luminaries recognized included those from corporate, government and military sectors.

"I was elated to have received an award of this caliber at the national level. This award is a testament to the many great ideas and activities conducted at UTPA," said Villalobos, a UTPA faculty member since 2001.

According to HENAAC officials, luminaries represent Hispanic professionals in STEM who are leading, collaborating and initiating key programs and research within their respective organizations. They are recognized for their contributions to the Hispanic technical community as a leader and role model in the promotion of STEM education and careers.

Villalobos is the principal investigator of a $3.7 million grant from the Department of Defense to UTPA - one of three awarded nationally in 2011 - to establish the C-STEM. The center's focus is on strengthening STEM academic programs and increasing the number of STEM graduates, particularly from underrepresented groups through activities centered on faculty professional development, pre-college student outreach, and undergraduate research.

Villalobos is also a co-principal investigator of a $3.1 million award received in 2012 from the National Science Foundation's ADVANCE Program that will support the University's development as an exemplary Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) in attracting and nurturing women, especially Hispanic women, in STEM fields and careers.

A Rio Grande Valley native from Donna, Texas, Villalobos is a first-generation college graduate, earning a B.S. in mathematics from The University of Texas-Austin and both her master's and doctorate from Rice University in Computational and Applied Mathematics. At UTPA, she has compiled a long list of research journal articles and conference proceedings, many co-presented with students she has mentored. In 2011, she received both the College of Science and Mathematics Faculty Excellence Award in Service and the University Faculty Excellence Award in Service at UT Pan American.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Havidán Rodríguez described Villalobos as an outstanding faculty member who is deserving of the national recognition for her role and contributions to STEM education generally and especially as it relates to STEM education among Latino/a students and faculty.

"She has been extremely successful, in collaboration with colleagues across the campus, in generating externally-funded research projects aimed at enhancing, expanding, and strengthening STEM education," he said. "UT Pan American's new Center of Excellence in STEM and the ADVANCE grant will allow the University to serve as a national model on STEM education, particularly targeting underrepresented groups with a special focus on Latinos/as. Dr. Villalobos has played and will continue to play a key leadership role in both projects."

Villalobos said she is proud to be a member of the UTPA community contributing to local and national efforts to help prepare more students in STEM disciplines.

"I thank all of the UTPA community for their support," she said.