ASU Regents Professor Receives Math Award

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ASU Regents Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez received a prestigious award from the world’s top applied mathematics organization, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics’ Prize for Distinguished Service to the Profession, at the International Congress on Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Professor Castillo-Chavez discusses his award-winning work.

JOSE CARDENAS: Good evening. I'm Jose Cardenas. An ASU professor receives the most prestigious award from the world's top applied mathematics organization. Plus, well get to know reverend Fernando Camou, the first U.S.-born Hispanic priest to be ordained in the roman catholic diocese of Phoenix in more than 35 years. And learn about a federal aid program helping homeowners refinance their mortgages. All this coming up on "Horizonte."

VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.

JOSE CARDENAS: Thank you for joining us. The eighth international congress on industrial and applied mathematics was held in Beijing, China. ASU regents professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez was there to receive the most prestigious award from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics SIAM, the world's top applied mathematics organization. Joining me now to talk about the award is ASU Regents professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez. Professor Castillo-Chavez, welcome back to "Horizonte." Every time you're on the show, you've gotten another award but this is one of the most significant. Tell us, first of all, when we talk about applied mathematics, what's the significance of that?

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: There are different perspectives. One is to develop new tools that allows you to apply mathematics in different areas and the other has to do with mathematics to solve real-life problems like the problems of Ebola or HIV and also the sustainability of the environment and I'm more from the second school than the first.

JOSE CARDENAS: And in fact you've been recognized for your work in connection with the sars outbreak.

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: We did one of the first papers, predicting the number of cases in Canada before the epidemic ended and we hit it right on the money.

JOSE CARDENAS: You're also involved in dealing with the Ebola outbreak?

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: We also wrote a paper predicting that there was going to be not as many cases as had been advertised and we predicted that there were going to be 6,800 cases by September, while many others predicted there were going to be in the millions by the end of the year, we didn't think that was the case and that turned out to be correct.

JOSE CARDENAS: You've recognized many, many times. You're internationally known, certainly nationally known. What's so special about this particular award?

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: Well, it's distinguished service to the profession and typically given to an individual for their contributions to applied mathematics but also for their contributions to the community in terms of how you help applied mathematics spread around the world and also for contributions to mentoring new generations of mathematicians and in my particular case, I'm very proud of the fact that I have devoted the last 30 years of my life to trying to provide access and opportunities for diverse populations in applied mathematics, particularly U.S. Latinos.

JOSE CARDENAS: Was that part of the basis for your selection to receive this award?

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: I hope so! It is distinguished service for the profession, the award mentions my work on ecology and epidemiology and other areas of applied mathematics and my contributions to mentoring and other areas of applied mathematics. So it is a great award because it encompasses several things that I have done in applied mathematics and I'm very proud that I was recognized by them.

JOSE CARDENAS: This was your most recent award but earlier in the month of August you received another recognition. Tell us about that one.

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: Yes, they were celebrating their 100th year of their birth and they selected five individuals to make major presentations in Washington, D.C. So I was given the opportunity to speak at this event. It's been recorded, and it's going to be online. It's very important, when you have one of the largest associations of the world of mathematics, and it's different than SIAM, a different association, giving you that forum to express your ideas about applied mathematics. In this particular case I talked about Ebola. It has been a very good week for me, so to speak.

JOSE CARDENAS: There's another one coming up, this one from the Victoria foundation.

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: On September 9th, the foundation, thanks to some donations, created the award. The award is mathematicians from Arizona, native of Arizona, who have done tremendous contributions to mathematics. Our sister institution, the university of Arizona. He was a former president of the society. He's a true giant. So being recognized by an award named after him and being the first one to be recognized is a great honor to me.

JOSE CARDENAS: And in addition to many of the honorifics that you have, you are the Joaquin Bustoz of mathematics. That's another very significant recognition.

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: Yes, when I was appointed here, I suggested that it be named after Joaquin Bustoz Jr, his parents were custodians at the elementary schools are named after his parents and he was a major force in providing opportunities to native American Latinos and essentially people from poor families in the state of Arizona. And when he passed away, I thought that he was the most appropriate thing to do. That's the first shared professorship named after a US Latino in the United States and a tremendous honor for me to be recognized after two giants from the state of Arizona.

JOSE CARDENAS: And you very much followed his lead in terms of your own work and we've made reference to it earlier in the interview, working with young Latinos and other minority students to get them involved in mathematics, which is not a typical, at least to date, hasn't been a typical course of study. Tell us about that and what the current status is. Is it getting better or deteriorating? And what can we expect in the future?

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: There's been some progress and certainly Arizona State University, there has been tremendous advancement and support for these students. So, in fact, the situation has approved somewhat but still we haven't crossed that threshold, where you suddenly will see great numbers of Latinos going into stem disciplines in the massive numbers that we would expect. Nevertheless we have developed this program at Arizona State that goes from 10th grade all the way to the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral positions and faculty positions to create the kind of leadership that will continue to advance this idea. It's not only Arizona state but across the station.

JOSE CARDENAS: And how do you identify in 10th grade, what do you to reach into the high schools and identify these students who might prosper in the program?

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: I really believe in the model of access, excellence and impact. So what we do at Arizona State is we go to the poorest schools in the country, also in the Navajo nation, and we recruit the best students from the schools that they have. So we don't look for the people that do the best on the scores, which tend to be the children of parents with high socioeconomic status, but we bring the best students from those schools and it turns out to be that ones that get the support, the opportunity, all of them become aerospace engineers or mathematicians or scientists, it never fails. It's just providing that access and that opportunity in 10th grade, and then bringing them back from 11th grade and 12th grade, that's enough to provide the kind of access that will change their lives and the lives of the families.

JOSE CARDENAS: Professor just one last question. The number of women who are seeking careers in mathematics has traditionally been low and I would assume even more so for Latinas. Is that still the case and what kind of progress are we making there?

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: For Latinas, it continues to be tremendously low. It's a very sad state of affairs. In terms of participation as undergraduates, the numbers have increased, but in terms of the numbers of Latinas that are being associated professor, professor, or have a very distinguished career, the situation in the country is still tragic, across most universities, it's very rare to find a full professor that is Latina, not only in applied mathematics but in most stem disciplines and that needs to be addressed directly.

JOSE CARDENAS: And I know you'll continue to address it. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizonte" and congratulations on your most recent award.

CARLOS CASTILLO-CHAVEZ: A pleasure to be here.

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