Gweneth Humphreys Award

2014 Winner: William Yslas Vélez


The Association for Women in Mathematics is pleased to present its fourth annual M. Gweneth Humphreys Award to Professor William Yslas Vélez of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Arizona. Dr. Vélez is legendary for his ability to encourage women to study mathematics and pursue mathematical careers. Particularly impressive is his success in instilling confidence in first generation and minority students who are often struggling to overcome expectations based on culture and gender. At an early stage, Dr. Vélez identifies and recruits students he believes would benefit from taking more math courses. Numerous women describe how he met with them their first days on campus and got them thinking about degree and career paths. Others gratefully express how he completely changed their academic horizon when he pulled them aside and urged them to consider graduate studies in mathematics. Many appreciate how he listened carefully to their interests and guided them to attain well-matched research experiences. He challenges his students to step out of their comfort zones so they can achieve greater success. One former student writes: “I catch myself encouraging others to obtain an education and specifically that they should consider a degree in mathematics… I have experienced firsthand how much impact one person alone can have on a student’s academic and professional life, and I hope to be to other students what Dr. Vélez was to me.” The AWM is proud to honor William Yslas Vélez’s outstanding achievements in inspiring undergraduate women to discover and pursue their passion for mathematics.

Response from William Yslas Vélez:

I am honored to receive this recognition from the AWM. I am extremely grateful to my colleagues and friends, Debra Hughes-Hallett and Laurie Varecka, for taking the initiative to nominate me for this recognition and to contact the many women that I had the pleasure of working with over these many years. As I near retirement, the letters that I received from these women are a treasure of wonderful memories. The small amount of success that I have had in motivating students to pursue mathematical studies has much to do with the culture that I grew up in. The Mexican-American culture and family that nurtured me and that I embraced provided me with an important outlook. From the deserts of Arizona-Sonora, a mother whispered to her children, “Lo único que les puedo dejar es una buena educación.” (My inheritance to you is a good education.) My brothers and I took this to heart. Though our career paths were all different, we each shared this inheritance with others. This small breath of hope, whispered so long ago, reverberates still. I am privileged to be the conduit through which my mother has spoken to so many women.