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Academic Trailblazers to Address 10th Graduating Class

March 23, 2015

UC Merced has spent the past decade blazing a trail as the nation’s first research university of the 21st century, and its students are no different. In May, the campus’s 10th graduating class will hear keynote addresses from academic leaders who are equally innovative and inspiring.

Richard A. Tapia, a computational mathematics professor at Rice University in Houston, and Cora B. Marrett, former deputy director and acting director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), will speak at the campus’s commencement ceremoniesOpens a new window on May 16 and 17.

UC Merced is preparing for the largest graduating class in its 10-year history — roughly 1,200 candidates are eligible to participate in the weekend’s ceremonies. Both events begin at 9 a.m. in the South Bowl on campus.

We look forward to celebrating our graduates’ many accomplishments and hearing from two trailblazers in academia and champions of underrepresented minorities in education who have paved the way for young people to follow them,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland said.

Tapia, a renowned researcher in computational and mathematical sciences, will speak to around 500 graduation candidates from the School of Natural Sciences and the School of Engineering on May 16.

Tapia’s major research contributions have been in the area of optimization theory and numerical analysis — the science of developing and analyzing methods for solving real-world problems using mathematics and computers. He was one of the pioneers in the computational methods in numerical optimization known as primal-dual interior point techniques that are now routinely used world-wide to solve problems in science and engineering design.

In 1970, Tapia became the first Hispanic faculty member in science and engineering at Rice University, where he later served as chair of the mathematical sciences department for five years. He has been credited with increasing the number of women and minorities studying mathematics and science at Rice. He now holds the positions of Maxfield-Oshman Professor of Engineering, associate director of graduate studies, and director of the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education at Rice.

Among his many honors, Tapia is a 2011 recipient of the National Medal of Science, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers. He was named one of the 20 most influential leaders in minority math education by the National Research Council and became the first Hispanic to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Tapia was the first in his family to attend college, earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from UCLA.

In addition to the outstanding contributions he has made to his field, Dr. Tapia has gained national recognition for his continued efforts to foster opportunity and equality for underrepresented groups in mathematics and science education,” Leland said. “His personal story of overcoming adversity is guaranteed to inspire our next generation of scientists and engineers.”

During the May 17 ceremony, Marrett — a pioneer in the fields of education and sociology — will address around 625 candidates from the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts.

Marrett is professor emerita at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she served on the faculty for more than 30 years. From 1997 to 2001, she served as provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  She returned to UW-Madison in 2001 to serve as the University of Wisconsin system's senior vice president for academic affairs, a position she held until 2007.

Marrett then poured her academic achievements and leadership experience into her work as a senior administrator for a federal agency. She earned the NSF's Distinguished Service Award for her leadership as the agency’s first assistant director for the Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences directorate. As assistant director for Education and Human Resources, Marrett led NSF's mission to achieve excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels. Marrett served as deputy director of the National Science Foundation from May 2011 until August 2014. In that same period, she also served twice as acting director of the agency.

Marrett holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Virginia Union University and master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from the UW-Madison. 

Dr. Marrett’s groundbreaking leadership as the first female to hold two Senate-confirmed posts at the National Science Foundation, combined with her breadth of experience in the fields of education and social sciences, will provide a motivating commencement address for our graduates to depart with,” Leland said.

For information on commencement events, visit commencement.ucmerced.edu.