My mother is from the little mining town of Jerome, Arizona and my father is from Rosales, Chihuahua, Mexico. I have four sisters, one older than me, three younger than me. I grew up in Juarez, Mexico which is right on the border. My culture derived mostly from Mexican values, because I had a lot of family around me. However, I was greatly influenced by U.S. culture, since the two countries are only separated by a river. As time went on, I was more exposed to U.S. culture, and during my graduate school years, Mexican-American culture made an impact on my life. I think my experience in coming from a more Mexican cultural environment has allowed me to understand that some of the perceived differences between Mexicans and Mexican-Americans are not really there at all, and that we come from the same origin and have much in common.
My parents constantly encouraged me when I was growing up, so I always thought I could do anything I set my mind to. My parents never finished grade school, and my father by profession was a barber. Financially, it was sometimes difficult with five children in the house, so I started working while I was in high school to help pay for some of my expenses. I worked as a painter, a railway worker, and a gas station attendant. I also spent a lot of time playing sports.
I was always good at mathematics, and I decided to go to college right after high school. I attended the University of Texas at El Paso where I earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. I attended Stanford University for my master’s degree in statistics, and earned my Ph.D. in statistics from University of California, Berkeley. I am currently Professor of Mathematics at the University of Texas, El Paso. There are two very different aspects to my job. One is teaching, which I enjoy very much. I always want to know about the new ways that young people see the world. As a teacher, I have the ability to affect their lives, and they also affect mine. The second part of my job is research. I especially enjoy working with undergraduates and graduate students on research projects. Students sometimes need some college level work before they have the background to do research. But there are many opportunities for a student to get involved if this is what they would like to do.
With statistics, people have the ability to impact policy decisions by interacting with public health officials and government agencies to better understand some of the problems in society. Statistical techniques are used in designing studies in clinical research, air pollution control, quality of manufactured products, and other areas such as engineering, physics and chemistry, and the creation of new materials. So I do not only work with other mathematicians and statisticians, but people who do many different kinds of important work. This is one of the best things about my job.
Right now I am working with the National Parks Service, looking at pollution data, specifically to try to see if the Clean Air Act passed twenty years ago is helping to keep the air clean in national parks. We have been trying to find out if the situation has gotten better, worse, or if it has stayed the same. The problem is complicated because the pollution in the national parks does not come from the parks themselves, but comes from the surrounding cities. I work with people in materials science (metallurgy) and we look at the properties of these materials in terms of corrosion properties, strength, and other qualities. I am also working on a problem which has to do with mapping certain genes in the human genome and trying to find out where they are, and whether a particular gene has an impact on any specific physical characteristic of a person. We are trying to tell from these genes whether a person has a chance of getting a certain disease in their lifetime.
I think statistics has potential use in any area of investigation. For students who are interested not only in mathematics, but have diverse interests in the other sciences, statistics could be the area which would give them the opportunity to interact in a wide range of scientific fields. My career objectives at this point are to become the best researcher that I possibly can, and to have a positive impact on as many minority students as I can. The best way I have found to meet my goals is to pursue them with hard work and perseverance.