STEM Professional of the week

Maria Cristina Villalobos, Ph.D.      
The University of Texas - Pan American

Dr. Maria Cristina Villalobos is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA). The eldest of three children born and raised in McAllen, TX, to immigrant parents from Mexico, she was taught to always "take the initiative." This example would serve her well as she began early on to search for opportunities to excel and to strengthen her path towards a college degree.

While in high school, Cristina was an active participant in the Texas Pre-Freshman (TexPrep) engineering program offered by UTPA. Always challenging herself, she requested also enrollment in honors courses when her standardized test scores prevented it despite her good grades. She was accepted at UT Austin and became the first in her family to go to college, an example that her siblings would thereafter follow.

As a student at the University of Texas at Austin, that same initiative that drove her during high school would serve her well. She took advantage of summer research opportunities offered at UC-Berkeley, Rice University and an internship with Sandia National Laboratories. Cristina graduated from UT with a B.S. in Mathematics and pursued her graduate studies at Rice University earning her doctorate degree in 2000.

Dr. Villalobos has been an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics since 2007 and has been at UTPA for over 12 years. Dr. Villalobos is a passionate individual with a self-imposed life-long mission of providing the environment and opportunities needed for US underrepresented students to succeed. The "motto" access, excellence and impact define the mission, goals and objectives of Cristina an incredible mentor and a STEM national leader.

In her time at UTPA, Dr. Villalobos has helped increase the number of Hispanic students attending doctoral programs in mathematics. To date she has helped send seven students to graduate studies at Iowa State University, Rice University, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at El Paso.

In 2011, UTPA was awarded a $3.7 million Center of Excellence in STEM Education from the U.S. Department of Defense for which she is lead Principal Investigator and Director. The center focuses on increasing the number of underrepresented students seeking STEM degrees and strengthening STEM academic programs through Challenge Based Instruction (CBI), providing faculty development, standardizes curriculum for the TexPrep program and thus setting the model for many of the other sites providing research opportunities for undergraduates and creating a physical location for a STEM student faculty and resource center.

Dr. Maria Villalobos and her husband Arturo Fuentes, live in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas with their two children. Her contributions to professional service at the university, and her mentoring of students resulted in her being awarded the 2011 UTPA Faculty Excellence Award in Service. Dr. Villalobos was recently honored with a HENAAC Luminary Award in October of 2012.

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