When Barbara Patocka P00 woke up on May 14, she probably knew she had one thing in common with Richard Tapia: they’d both be attending Harvey Mudd College’s 59th Commencement ceremony, where he was scheduled to deliver the keynote address and to receive an honorary doctor of engineering, science, and humane letters degree from the College. What Patocka didn’t know was that she, too, would receive an honorary degree.
A longtime member of the Harvey Mudd College Board of Trustees, Patocka had the length of the introduction by Board Chair Wayne Drinkward ’73 to let the news sink in before heading to the podium to accept her award from Drinkward and Harvey Mudd President Maria Klawe. “That was a surprise, by the way,” Drinkward told the crowd.
Tapia, who is the Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering and director of the Center for Excellence and Equity in Education at Rice University, was honored next. Both he and Patocka meet the criteria for the degree, including having a long-standing friendship with the College, its students and alumni and making significant contributions to the betterment of the students and alumni.
Patocka’s connection to Harvey Mudd began in 1997 when she became a trustee for the College. She and her husband, Everett Mattlin, expanded that connection when their son, Jeffrey Mattlin ’00 became a Mudder, graduating from Harvey Mudd (with distinction) with a major in engineering.
Patocka, who now lives near Washington D.C., is a retired financial executive with broad experience in mergers and acquisitions, project financing, corporate finance, financial analysis and strategic planning. She earned her B.A. at the College of Mount Saint Vincent and did graduate work in finance at NYU. She began her career as a financial journalist at Institutional Investor and won the 1973 University of Missouri award for her article on the underfunding of public pension funds. She then spent 20 years at Mobil Corporation in positions of increasing responsibility, culminating in the role of in-house investment banker for the merger of Mobil and Exxon. After five years at ExxonMobil, Patocka retired to pursue her other major interest and earned an M.A. in sacred scripture from the Washington Theological Union in 2008.
Tapia, a leading researcher in the computational and mathematical sciences, is a national leader in diversity education and outreach. He is well known to the Harvey Mudd community as the namesake of two professional conferences—the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference and the Blackwell-Tapia Conference—which celebrate diversity in computer science and mathematics, and which a selection of Harvey Mudd students and faculty have attended regularly. The Blackwell-Tapia Conference founders describe Tapia as a seminal figure who inspired a generation of African-American, Native American and Latino/Latina students to pursue careers in mathematics.
While at Rice, Tapia has directed or co-directed more underrepresented minority and women doctoral recipients in science and engineering than anyone in the country and has led several programs that have brought recognition to the university’s commitment to diversity. During his Commencement address, Tapia cited Harvey Mudd College Professor of Mathematics Talithia Williams, a Rice alumna, as proof of that success.
Born in Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Tapia was the first in his family to attend college, receiving his B.A., M.A. and PhD in mathematics from UCLA. He taught at University of Wisconsin before joining Rice, and is also an adjunct faculty member at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston.
Patocka and Tapia were each given their framed degree certificates and regalia hoods during Harvey Mudd’s Commencement ceremony. Thus far, the College has awarded 16 honorary doctorates. Recipients include the late President Emeritus Joseph B. Platt (1981), astronaut Mae C. Jemison (2007), President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Freeman Hrabowski (2010) and the late HMC Board Chair and green building pioneer Malcolm Lewis ‘67 (2012).