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ASU mathematician receives dual honors

November 21, 2012

Carlos Castillo-Chavez, Regents’ Professor and the Joaquin Bustoz Jr. Professor of Mathematical Biology at Arizona State University, has been selected as a fellow by the American Mathematical Society and named a Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Visiting Professor with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). 

The American Mathematical Society was founded in 1888 and has more than 30,000 members. The society’s mission is to promote mathematics research and education, in addition to advancing an appreciation for mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and everyday life. Chavez-Castillo was selected for this society’s initial class of fellows based on his excellence in mathematical sciences research, math education and service. More than 1,100 fellows were chosen from institutions worldwide, representing some of the most accomplished mathematicians internationally.

Castillo-Chavez was also awarded a MLK Visiting Professorship, part of a program created at MIT to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Since 1991, exceptional professors and scholars from diverse backgrounds have been invited to the MIT campus to participate in teaching and research and to enrich the institute’s intellectual life. Castillo-Chavez’s research program is at the interface of mathematical and natural and social sciences with emphasis on the role of environmental and social structures in addiction and disease evolution and the dynamics of complex systems at the intersection of ecology, epidemiology and the social sciences. He will work with professor Moe Win, a Charles Stark Draper Associate Professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

“As hundreds of his students and colleagues can testify, Dr. Chavez-Castillo’s groundbreaking research in mathematics, modeling of epidemics and his investments in mentoring have changed lives,” said Robert Page, university vice provost and dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “He has changed the face of the sciences, mathematics and engineering over the last two decades. Most importantly, he’s offered students from all backgrounds pathways to achieve excellence.”

At ASU, Chavez-Castillo is the founding director of the Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center, the executive director of the award-winning Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI) and The Institute for Strengthening the Understanding of Mathematics and Science or SUMS, research units in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also teaches in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

One of the innovative programs he directs is the Joaquin Bustoz Math-Science Honors Program, which helps advance high school students in university mathematics and sciences before graduation from high school. The intensive summer program has supported more than 2,500 students from 140 Arizona Schools.

Castillo-Chavez’s modeling science center has also developed integrative degrees in applied mathematics for the life and social sciences (AMLSS) for undergraduate and doctoral students. A collaboration with the School of Human Evolution, the program was designed to advance students interested in developing the critical-thinking skills needed to make innovative contributions to global challenges and blends competencies in mathematics with natural and social sciences, engineering, business, government and economics. Castillo-Chavez is also the co-director of a national program to promote students from underrepresented groups in the mathematical sciences, The National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in Mathematical Sciences, supported by the National Science Foundation, which offers conferences, grants, mentoring and summer training programs, including one in the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute that Castillo-Chavez directs at ASU.

“I have been nine years at ASU and am delighted to see that the work of MTBI and the Applied Mathematics in the Life and Social Sciences Ph.D. that we established in 2008 have put us at the top of U.S. Hispanic mathematics Ph.D. producers in the nation,” said Castillo-Chavez.

Among his many awards are recognitions from the White House: Presidential Faculty Fellowship Award (1992) and a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (1997). He was also recognized by the 2002 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) for the Distinguished Scientist Award (2002) and the Richard Tapia Award (2003). He has been previously recognized by the American Mathematical Society, who honored him with the Distinguished Public Service Award (2010). He has authored or co-authored more than 200 publications, edited several volumes of research articles, and co-authored a textbook in Mathematical Biology. He has also co-edited three other volumes; one that examines the use of mathematical models in homeland security published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics and two others that discuss the applications of mathematics in emerging and re-emerging diseases. Castillo-Chavez is also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, and American College of Epidemiology, and was appointed a member of the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science by President Obama in 2010.

Although these accolades are impressive, perhaps the most touching testament comes from his daughter Melissa Castillo-Garsow, an author and poet, accompanying a volume being published in his honor by the journal Mathematical Biosciences and Engineering this spring: “… his example taught me the value of hard work, the importance of community, the significance of mentorship. His dedication to minorities inspires me to uncover unwritten histories of Latina women, to teach Latino writings if I even manage to complete my own studies. He even inspires my poetry … And when a mathematician’s work and example can inspire creativity in the humanities – that is one very long reach.”