Erika Camacho

Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor, 2013-2014

Research: Mathematical Modeling, Mathematical Physiology, Dynamical Systems

Erika Camacho

Erika Tatiana Camacho is Professor in the School of Mathematical & Natural Sciences at Arizona State University (ASU). She grew up in East Los Angeles and was taught by Jaime Escalante at Garfield High School.  In an area of Los Angeles where just finishing high school was considered an accomplishment, Escalante (featured in the movie Stand and Deliver) helped change people’s dreams.  Erika Tatiana had the aspirations of becoming a cashier before meeting Escalante and after taking his class and meeting some of his alumni that had attended MIT she had aspirations to attend MIT as an undergraduate.  She didn’t apply to MIT out of fear of rejection but instead applied to a number of other schools and chose Wellesley.  The affluence of Wellesley was a far cry from her experiences of East LA and she thought of dropping out many times.  A few key professors at Wellesley and phone conversations with Escalante are why she stayed at Wellesley and ultimately thrived.   She earned her Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Cornell University in 2003 having gotten married and had her first child along the way.  She held a postdoctoral position at Los Alamos National Laboratory and then a tenure-track position at Loyola Marymount University. While at LMU, she co-founded and co-directed the Applied Mathematical Sciences Summer Institute (AMSSI), dedicated to the recruitment of undergraduate women, underrepresented minorities, and those that might not otherwise have the opportunity to do research as an undergrad.  In 2007, she moved to ASU where the student population was far more heterogeneous and representative of the U.S. population than any she had seen since high school.  Over the next several years, she served on numerous boards including the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), as well as on the AMS Council.

At ASU she was able to devote more time to her research although she still spent countless hours on efforts related to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.  She has 30 peer-reviewed publications and some of them provided the first set of mechanistic models and mathematical equations describing photoreceptor degeneration. Through a series of 10-11 publications of spatially averaged ordinary differential equations models, she pioneered the mechanistic mathematical modeling of retinal processes. These models investigated both the healthy and diseased retinas at the cellular and molecular levels. In the earliest publication in the area, her work predicted the existence of something experimentally discovered a year later - the rod-derived cone viability factor (RdCVF) and proposed equations describing the dynamics of rod and cone OS number, and RPE cell number. This model was extended in another publication to account for mutated (phenotype) rods, which were used to describe the diseased state of RP. In another publication, the RP model was further extended to include a control input that represented RdCVF treatment, which was designed using optimal control. The metabolic contribution in RP to photoreceptor death was quantified in collaboration with an experimentalist through a mathematical model. With another experimentalist (the discoverer of RdCVF, Dr. Thierry Léveillard), she showed the role of RdCVF in RP coexistence and mathematically analyzed it.

Her leadership, scholarship, and mentoring has won her national recognition.  She has been awarded the 2019 AAAS Mentor Award and the 2014 PAESMEM from the White House.  She has also been awarded the 2020 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Presidential Award, the 2020 AWM Louise Hay Award for Mathematics Education, the 2018 AAHHE Outstanding Latino/a Faculty in Higher Education Research/Teaching (Research Institutions) Award, the 2017 Great Minds in STEM Education Award,  the SACNAS Distinguished Undergraduate Mentoring Award in 2012 and the National Hispanic Women Corporation Latina Leadership Award in 2011, recognition as one of 12 Emerging Scholars of 2010 by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, and a citation for mentoring and guiding undergraduates in research by the U.S. National Security Agency. Some of her local recognitions include the ASU Founders’ Day Service Award in 2019, the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Faculty Commitment to Diversity Award in 2019, the New College Outstanding Community Engagement Award in 2018, the Victoria Foundation Higher Education Awards: Dr. William Yslas Velez Outstanding STEM Award, Arizona, 2016. the Dr. Manuel Servin Faculty Award for excellence in exemplifying achievement in research, mentorship of Hispanic students, leadership at ASU and in the community in 2013, the New College Faculty Service Award in 2013, the 40 Hispanic Leaders Under 40 Award in 2012 and the ASU Faculty Women’s Association Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award in 2011.

Stephen Wirkus grew up in Kansas City, MO the second of seven children.  A first-generation student, it was a few key high school teachers that insisted he attend college.  With the local university, the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), offering a tuition scholarship, he lived at home during his 5 years at UMKC.  Even though he maintained a nearly perfect GPA majoring in math and physics, it was an English professor who first told him (early is his 4th year) that he should consider graduate school in one of those fields and explained how grad school worked.  After asking a few other professors in physics, he found the needed support and mentoring to navigate the application process and ultimately chose to attend Cornell University in the Center for Applied Mathematics.  While at Cornell, he was invited to work in a newly created REU program in biomathematics.  In mentoring these students and working with them in research, he realized the impact he could have and continued in similar roles in many summers since (directing REUs in 11 summers and working in them but not directing in 7 additional summers).  After graduating and holding a Visiting Assistant Professor at Cornell for a year, he began a tenure-track job at Cal Poly Pomona.  With Erika Tatiana Camacho, he co-founded and co-directed the Applied Mathematical Sciences Summer Institute (AMSSI), dedicated to the recruitment of undergraduate women, underrepresented minorities, and those that might not otherwise have the opportunity, which ran 2005-2007.  He moved to Arizona State University (ASU) in 2007 as a tenured Associate Professor in the newly created School of Mathematical & Natural Sciences (SMNS).  As the “senior” member in applied mathematics, he helped create the B.S. in Applied Mathematics and continued working with undergraduates in research during the school year and in the summers.  In 2013 he was named the ASU Parents Association Professor of the Year, the final year the award was given.  He served as Associate Director of SMNS from 2015-2018 and Interim Director 2018-2019 before returning to the faculty as Professor.

Among Prof. Wirkus' scholarly interests are mathematical biology, differential equations, dynamical systems, mathematical methods in physics, mathematical modeling, and numerical methods. He has published in the areas of mathematical physiology involving the retina’s photoreceptors, population biology, epidemiology, and other problems he finds interesting. He has numerous peer-reviewed publications with undergraduate or graduate students.  He has been Ph.D. advisor or co-advisor for 4 Ph.D.s at ASU and is currently advising or co-advising 2 more; all 6 are either female, underrepresented minority, or both.  He has recently begun to work with students on mathematical models of drug abuse.  He has published the textbook A Course in Ordinary Differential Equations (Chapman & Hall/CRC Press, 1st edition in 2006, 2nd edition in 2014 and revised while an MLK scholar at MIT) and A Course in Differential Equations with Boundary-Value Problems (Chapman & Hall/CRC Press, 2016), which incorporate the popular mathematical software MATLAB, Maple, and Mathematica.