|I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but I grew up in Independence, Missouri. My father came to the United States from Durango, Mexico in 1910 and my mother is of German descent. Though neither of my parents ever went to college, they impressed upon me the importance of learning and making the most of educational opportunities. I was the first person in the family to attend college.
The structure and organization of mathematics appealed to me at a young age. I was not a gifted student, though, so I had to work hard in school. Through the encouragement of a seventh grade teacher, Sister Mary James, I excelled in learning mathematics. She prepared a group of promising mathematics students, of which I was one, for a scholarship competition at De La Salle Military Academy. Under her tutelage, I won a scholarship to the academy, where I was able to take more mathematics courses. I soon discovered that the logical thinking necessary to do mathematics not only applied to mathematics; it was a method of problem solving that can be applied to every aspect of life, making humans no longer the victims of blind faith, fate, or memorized patterns.
I attended college at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Missouri, where I studied mathematics, earning my B.S. degree in 1952. A professor of mine at Rockhurst, Father William C. Doyle, urged me to continue my mathematical studies. I began my graduate studies at Notre Dame in 1952, but was interrupted with a tour in the Army. I completed the master’s degree in 1956. From 1957 to 1959, I taught at what is now Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. In 1961, I earned my Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), where I wrote my dissertation on topology. After completing my Ph.D., I taught at UCLA, Tulane University and then the University of New Orleans. In 1976, I joined the faculty at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), which has essentially brought me home. I am currently a professor of mathematics at UTSA.
My particular research interest in mathematics has been general topology, which includes the abstract study of mathematical properties like limits and continuity, ideas you encounter in calculus. I have authored or co-authored papers in this area which have appeared in well-known mathematical journals and which have been cited by other researchers in this area.
However, being a professor isn’t just about doing research; I am also a teacher and I am very interested in helping others become educated, especially minorities and women. I noticed that very few minorities were actually completing studies in mathematics and the sciences. Something needed to be done to increase this number. In 1979, I founded the Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) at UTSA with help from other colleges and universities, and the U.S. Department of Energy. PREP is a mathematics-based academic enrichment program, running for eight weeks during the summer, aimed at middle and high school students. Students learn about mathematics, logical thinking, abstract reasoning, computer science, and the mathematical sciences. When it was initiated, the program was disparaged because it was thought that pre-college students wouldn’t want to devote any of their summer to studying mathematics and science. In November of 1979, a San Antonio magazine published a feature story about my university in which an anonymous member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board expressed his opposition to approving an engineering program at UTSA. He stated, “The Mexican American community is not where engineers come from anyway.” These words were an insult to both our community and me; but I also viewed them as a challenge for both PREP and myself. PREP has been very successful, and it has been replicated as the Texas Prefreshman Engineering Program (TexPREP) on 25 college campuses in 15 Texas cities, and as Proyecto Access on 9 college campuses in 8 states outside of Texas.
PREP has been an overwhelming success where it has been initiated. It has helped minority and women students achieve a new level of competence in mathematics and the sciences, and has given them the tools and the confidence to go on to college and earn degrees in science, mathematics and engineering. The PREP program and I have received numerous awards and citations. For example, in 1997 San Antonio PREP received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. In 1998, PREP was designated a La Promesa de un Futuro Brillante Program by the National Latino Children’s Institute. In 1994, I received the Hispanic Heritage Award in Education. In 2000, I was inducted as Charter Member into the Texas Science Hall of Fame along with four astronauts and four Nobel Laureates. In 2001, I received the most prestigious award of the Mathematical Association of America, the Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics.