Thursday, May 30, 2024

Erika Tatiana Camacho, Jaime Escalante math student, named inaugural UTSA Berriozábal chair

Erika Tatiana Camacho, Jaime Escalante math student, named inaugural UTSA Berriozábal chair

AUGUST 22, 2023 — Highly accomplished mathematical biologist, educator and advocate for equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Erika Tatiana Camacho has been named the inaugural holder of the Manuel P. Berriozábal, Ph.D. and María Antonietta Berriozábal Endowed Chair as well as a professor in the UTSA College of Sciences’ mathematics and neuroscience, developmental and regenerative biology departments.

Camacho attended Garfield High School in East Los Angeles and was a student of Jaime Escalante, the math teacher whose story inspired the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver.”

The Berriozábal Endowed Chair recognizes Manuel and María’s innovation and commitment to advancing San Antonio through the promotion of STEM education for middle and high school students and expanding opportunities for students of all backgrounds to access a college degree.

“I am proud to be among the outstanding faculty at UTSA who put both students and the advancement of local communities first.”

Berriozábal joined UTSA as a mathematics professor in 1976. Three years later, he established the Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) to create a pathway for Hispanic youth in San Antonio to participate in educational opportunities in STEM areas. Maria supported his mission to create equitable opportunities for access to higher education and likewise led a life of public service. In 1981, she became the first Latina to be elected to the San Antonio City Council, where she served for a decade.

“The Berriozábals have been active advocates for equity and access in higher education,” Camacho said. “I am one data point of the impact that efforts like theirs have made in this space, particularly in STEM. Their work has been pivotal in transforming our communities. They reflect the same values that I have. I’m humbled by this recognition and opportunity to exemplify the work the Berriozábals have done. They give me something to aspire to and I feel very honored and fortunate to be associated with their legacy.”

Like the Berriozábals, Camacho is committed to advancing equitable access to education and the STEM fields.

“My passion for mathematics, my passion for helping others and teaching came from what I learned from Jaime Escalante,” Camacho said in a 2011 interview on Arizona PBS.

Camacho has a long and successful career in and outside of academia as a researcher, educator, mentor and advocate for racial and gender equity. Most recently, she held a three-year position as a program director at the National Science Foundation (NSF), where she supported several programs advancing racial and gender equity in STEM disciplines, including the ADVANCE program, the Racial Equity in STEM Education program and the Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) Program.

“Dr. Camacho is a truly exceptional scholar and a leader in her field,” said Heather Shipley, UTSA interim provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “With her unwavering commitment to student success, I am confident she will honor the legacy of the Berriozábals as she inspires and creates opportunities for UTSA’s first-generation and underrepresented students in STEM to succeed.”

As co-lead of the HSI Program, Camacho created new funding opportunities and cultivated connections with several leading national organizations that support HSIs such as Excelencia in Education, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education and Alliance for Hispanic Serving Institution Educators.

Prior to working at the NSF, Camacho spent 16 years at Arizona State University (ASU), most recently as a professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. At ASU, she co-directed multiple summer research programs dedicated to the recruitment and training of women, underrepresented minorities and others who might not have had the opportunity to pursue higher education in STEM.

“I enjoy seeing the impact that my leadership, work, service and mentoring have in eliminating structural barriers for the advancement of women and individuals from marginalized communities and individuals who are disadvantaged or who don’t have access to basic resources or information,” said Camacho.

Camacho is a recipient of several national and regional awards for her merits in leadership, research, scholarship and mentoring. These recognitions include the 2014 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) from the White House, the 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Mentor Award, the 2020 SACNAS Presidential Award and the 2023 Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) M. Gweneth Humphreys Award. In 2022 she was awarded a year-long Fulbright Research Scholarship to conduct research at L’Institut de la Vision-Sorbonne Université in Paris, France.

In addition to funding Camacho’s new faculty position, the endowment will support her research-related activities and educational programming designed to inspire students to consider future careers in STEM.

Camacho’s research includes using mathematical modeling to understand physiological processes. Her current work focuses on modeling and investigating healthy and diseased retinas at the cellular and molecular levels. She pioneered a modeling approach to investigate the steps of aerobic glycolysis in the retina’s cone photoreceptors, which allow humans to differentiate between colors and contribute to high visual acuity.

Camacho’s mathematical model, calibrated with real-world data, provides new insights into methods that can reduce vision impairment. Her work is reported in more than 30 peer-reviewed publications with several including mathematical models and the investigation of healthy and diseases retinas. She published the first set of models that directly addressed photoreceptor degeneration, a leading cause of visual impairment in adults, and established a new framework to help mitigate blindness. 

She has received $7,290,571 in funding to support her research and the advancement of faculty and student success in STEM, from organizations such as the NSF, the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Education.

A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, Camacho migrated to the United States at the age of seven and grew up with her family in East Los Angeles.

Camacho became the first in her family to graduate from high school and then, as a first-generation college student, went on to graduate magna cum laude with a B.A. in mathematics and a B.A. in economics from Wellesley College. She earned her master’s and Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Cornell University.

After finishing her studies, Camacho secured a postdoctoral position at Los Alamos National Laboratory and then a tenure-track position at Loyola Marymount University before she was recruited to ASU. Camacho is one of nearly 100 new faculty members joining UTSA this fall, along with her husband, Stephen Wirkus, who joins the Department of Mathematics as a professor.

“What has thoroughly impressed me about UTSA is the university’s commitment to student success and to empowering its surrounding communities in San Antonio, Texas and our nation,” said Camacho. “I am proud to be among the outstanding faculty at UTSA who put both students and the advancement of local communities first.”

⇒ Get to know this year’s new faculty.
⇒ Learn more about the College of Sciences.

“Reflecting on our nation’s trends and needs, it's an exciting time to be at UTSA,” added Camacho.

UTSA currently has more than 85 endowed chairs, professorships and fellowships that recognize the scholarship and research of the university’s highest achieving faculty.

Ryan Schoensee

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of The University of Texas at San Antonio.

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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