SIAM News Blog

Launch of the Center for Mathematical Modeling “Carlos Castillo-Chavez” in El Salvador

By Byong Kwon, Rachel Levy

The Universidad Francisco Gavidia (UFG) in El Salvador, in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU), held its First Congress of Mathematical Modeling in San Salvador from February 22–26, 2016. The event coincided with the inauguration of the UFG Center for Mathematical Modeling, named in honor of SIAM Fellow Carlos Castillo-Chavez. Castillo-Chavez is a Regents’ Professor and director of the Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center at ASU. At the Congress, participants from Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, and the United States presented talks and held discussions concerning health, security, and education. The Center will address crime and insecurity in Salvadorian society, along with other real-world problems facing Central America.

Founded in 1981, UFG was named for a prominent Salvadoran humanist and focused on social sciences and humanities. In 2012, UFG expanded its offerings and research activities to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Dr. Óscar Picardo Joao, director of the Institute of Science, Technology and Innovation at UFG, said he was inspired to launch the Center after meeting Castillo-Chavez in 2015 and reading Designing the New American University by Michael Crow and William Dabars. “We are convinced that the Center…[will] participate in designing solutions to the main problems of insecurity, violence, health, and education [in El Salvador]. In addition, the [Center’s] results should impact the design of public policies and government programs,” said Picardo.

Salvadoran TV news interviewing SIAM Fellow Carlos Castillo-Chavez in San Salvador. Photo courtesy of Universidad Francisco Gavidia.
The Congress and Center inauguration received extensive Salvadoran media coverage concerning how the Center can address crime and insecurity in El Salvador. In addition to attending the Congress, Castillo-Chavez and keynote speaker Edward Kaplan, President of INFORMS from Yale University, attended a private meeting between the government of El Salvador Security Council and Salvadoran civil society. “The presence of the Vice Minister of Science and Technology Dr. Erlinda Hándal [at the Congress] and the support of the Minister of Education Carlos Canjura again stressed the central role that the mathematical sciences play in decision making and policy planning in the Americas,” Castillo-Chavez said of the event.

Besides crime and insecurity, other prominent themes during the week were STEM education and vector-borne diseases, such as Zika virus. Castillo-Chavez met with Salvadoran health officials in response to concerns about Zika in El Salvador. Along with other ASU applied mathematicians, he also made a special presentation about STEM education to a select panel at the Salvadoran Ministry of Education. The panel included Minister Canjura, Vice Minister of Science & Technology Hándal, directors of national institutes, and other guests.

When asked about the naming of the Center, Castillo-Chavez said, “Being born and raised in Mexico, educated and empowered in the USA, married to a Colombian, and mentored by a Ph.D. advisor from Canada makes me a citizen of the Americas. Being honored by the Universidad Francisco Gavidia in San Salvador was unexpected and humbling. Martin Luther King’s words, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’’ and Nelson Mandela’s belief that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ became even more present in my life after this recognition.”

Byong Kwon is a Ph.D. student in the applied mathematics for the life and social sciences program at Arizona State University. Rachel Levy is SIAM VP for Education, as well as an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Harvey Mudd College.
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