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Javier Rojo standing in front of shrubbery.

Oregon State professor honored for contributions to statistics, minority student success

By Steve Lundeberg

Javier Rojo, Korvis Professor of Statistics, received the 2020 Distinguished Scientist Award from SACNAS.

Corvallis, Ore. — Javier Rojo, professor of statistics at Oregon State University, has received a national award for his contributions to the fields of statistics and mathematics and for his commitment to increasing the success of minority students in those disciplines.

Rojo, whose official title is Korvis Professor of Statistics, received the 2020 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, in part for his Research for Undergraduates Summer Institute of Statistics@OSU.

Each year the institute, known as RUSIS, recruits up to 15 underrepresented minority students who don’t have easy access to a research experience at their institutions, including students from community colleges, tribal colleges, historically Black colleges and Hispanic-serving institutions. Rojo and colleagues mentor and train the students for careers in research in mathematics and statistics.

“I’m very humbled and greatly honored to be chosen for this award,” said Rojo, who came to the OSU Department of Statistics four years ago from the University of Nevada at Reno following 13 years at Rice University and 18 years at the University of Texas at El Paso. “It’s an incredible honor for anyone and especially for someone who grew up in Ciudad, Juárez, México, dreaming of being Mickey Mantle’s successor in center field for the New York Yankees.”

Rojo, who played baseball for UTEP before an injury ended his hopes of a major league career, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from that school before gaining an additional master’s from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of California, Berkeley.

“One of the amazing things about Dr. Rojo is his willingness to take risks,” said Bill Velez, professor emeritus of mathematics at Arizona State University. “He accepts students who don’t have a great GPA or who do not have a substantial background in mathematics. Yet his data is enviable and shows that in spite of this, his RUSIS students are pursuing postgraduate studies.”

Rojo created the RUSIS program while at Rice and since its inception it has welcomed 246 participants, 40 of whom have gone on to earn a Ph.D.