Erika Tatiana Camacho, Ph.D.
Associate Professor School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences
Arizona State University
Education: Ph.D. and M.S., applied mathematics, Cornell University; B.A., mathematics and B.A., economics, Wellesley College.
Dr. Erika T. Camacho is the living embodiment of the “pay it forward” mentality. As a young high school student in East Los Angeles, she was one of the fortunate recipients of the tutelage of Jaime Escalante, the legendary high school educator and past HENAAC Award Winner. Escalante’s tireless efforts teaching calculus to under-privileged students was memorialized by Edward James Olmos in the 1988 film “Stand And Deliver.” His mentorship motivated Dr. Camacho to continue her education and earn B.A. degrees in mathematics and economics from Wellesley College, as well as M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in applied mathematics from Cornell University. That inspiration also pushed her to become a selfless mentor, and she believes that she has a moral obligation to open doors for other under-represented minorities and women as others did for her.
After teaching at Cal Poly, Pomona, Dr. Camacho spent the year after earning her Ph.D. at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She then accepted a tenure-track faculty position at Loyola Marymount University. In 2007, she accepted an appointment to the faculty of Arizona State University’s school of mathematical and natural sciences, where she has been an associate professor since 2014. She also served as an MLK Visiting Assistant Professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the 2013-2014 school year.
Dr. Camacho’s lifelong mission has been to change the landscape of the field of Mathematics by greatly diversifying it. Proof that she’s succeeding is evident in the many programs she has been involved with as a creator and/or director; the grants she has written and obtained; and the sheer numbers of students she has mentored who have gone on to graduate degrees.
Dr. Camacho’s research has centered on the afflictions of the human eye, like detach retinas and the degenerative eye disease retinitis pigmentosa. To better understand these and other ocular illnesses, she’s led efforts that have mathematically modeled critical processes like photoreceptor interactions, photoreceptor degeneration, to name just a few.
She was crucial in the development of two summer research programs, the Applied Mathematical Sciences Summer Institute [AMSSI] in 2005-2007 and the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute [MTBI] in 2011-2013, that impacted over 138 students (76 women and 76 URMs), many of whom have since earned Ph.D. and M.S. degrees. Dr. Camacho’s grant writing efforts were responsible for obtaining over $1.8 million from the NSF and NSA to support the research of 122 undergraduates at both LMU and ASU. She has mentored over 595 undergraduates in significant and prolonged ways and over 700 individuals in one-on-one sessions after one of her 18 keynote addresses, 10 plenary presentations, 5 invited presentations, and 21 panel invitations.
Among her numerous academic awards, honors, and fellowships the 2012 Distinguished Undergraduate Institution Mentor Award from the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science; a 2011 the National Latina Leadership Award from the, National Hispanic Women’s Corporation; and a Ford Foundation Fellowship.
The true testimony to Dr. Camacho’s tremendous impact on the countless lives she has affected as an educator and a mentor is the gratitude and admiration of her mentees – many of whom have gone on to “pay it forward” themselves by emulating her career path.
-By Vinnie Longobardo