2024 Winner: Cristina Villalobos
The Association for Women in Mathematics is pleased to announce that the 2024 M. Gweneth Humphreys Award will be presented at the Joint Mathematics Meetings to Cristina Villalobos, Myles and Sylvia Aaronson Endowed Professor, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV), for her exceptional success in mentoring and its subsequent impact on the mathematical profession as a whole.
The effect that Dr. Cristina Villalobos has had on mathematics through her various mentorship roles is hard to describe in a single citation; she is responsible, as her nominating letter says, “for hundreds of successful student careers.” Her individual work with students is amplified considerably by the University’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education, which she founded in 2011 through a grant awarded her from the Department of Defense. The Center’s work ranges from outreach to secondary schools through sponsoring hundreds of events that bring mathematics to local high schools, to creating a sense of community among STEM students at UTRGV, to leading mathematical science students into REUs and graduate programs, to guiding her mentees in their eventual job searches and professional careers. In recognizing the importance of her work, the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology awarded her with the 2019 Richard A. Tapia Achievement Award for Scientific Scholarship, Civic Science and Diversifying Computing. In addition, she received a 2020 U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. Dr. Villalobos also serves as the Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives and Institutional Effectiveness at the College of Sciences. Additionally, Dr. Villalobos served as Interim Director of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences from 2015-2017 transitioning the school through the first two years of UTRGV and increasing the numbers of Latino and women faculty along with leading the development and implementation of many initiatives which continue presently.
Dr. Villalobos’ students have gone on to work in the mathematical sciences at a variety of positions. Many have gone on to graduate programs and are teaching at secondary school and university levels; others have gone on to working in industries of multiple types. Her mentorship is not limited to undergraduates and graduate students but extends to faculty in her department with whom she has worked to promote more student involvement through innovative pedagogy, including flipped classrooms and inquiry-based learning methods. Her efforts have led to increased enrollments and retention, as well as to better student outcomes in the department’s courses.
Dr. Villalobos has an impressive research record of her own in her field of applied mathematics, and a substantial number of her publications and conference presentations are of work she has done with students. Both students and colleagues are effusive in their praise for the boost her support has given them in enlarging their mathematical horizons. One student says, “Dr. Villalobos saw in me the ability to further my education and pursue a graduate degree in mathematics. It was through her belief in me, words of encouragement, the knowledge that she had grown up and come from the same small town as me, and was now serving as a respected leader at the university and in her community, that I decided to pursue a Master of Science ….” From a colleague we hear, “…Most of the ideas I implement to improve student success, increase diversity, and truly serve our student population, were initiated or discussed first with Dr. Villalobos.” Perhaps the following comment best sums up her cumulative effect on her students and, hence, on the mathematical profession itself: “The impact Dr. Villalobos had on me and numerous others through her mentorship and guidance has not only influenced our lives directly, but also has and will continue to influence many others through the connections we each make throughout our careers for many years to come.”
The AWM is very pleased to honor Dr. Villalobos for her exceptional success in mentoring and her subsequent impact on the mathematical profession as a whole.
Response from Cristina Villalobos
I am very honored to have received the award whose focus is on the mentorship of women undergraduate students. Mentorship requires genuine interest, commitment, and intentionality over the years to provide guidance and opportunities for students and their career trajectories. I am proud of the success of these women who now serve as colleagues and collaborators in grant projects, in research, and in teaching effectiveness. Most importantly, they serve as role models and mentors in preparing the next generation of mathematicians and STEM professionals. In reality, my students’ success is my success. Thank you for the honor—muchas gracias por el honor.