Rice University mathematician Richard Tapia was named Tuesday as a recipient of the National Medal of Science, the highest national honor for a U.S. scientist.

Tapia, who joined the Rice faculty in 1970, is a professor of engineering and computational and applied mathematics.

His research into numerical optimization previously led to his election to the National Academy of Engineering, but he is best-known for his efforts to recruit more women and minorities into the sciences.

“He is recognized across the country as the person who has helped countless students, particularly Hispanic and African-American students, overcome obstacles and succeed in graduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Rice President David Leebron said.

Tapia, who also directs Rice’s Center for Excellence and Equity in Education, has worked with more under-represented minority and women PhD students in mathematics than anyone in the country, according to Rice.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Tapia was raised in Los Angeles and was the first in his family to attend college. He earned his degrees, including a PhD in mathematics, at the University of California at Los Angeles.

He will will receive the award at the White House in October.