Richard Tapia, a Rice University professor of engineering, computing and applied mathematics, will receive the National Medal of Science, the highest honor for U.S. scientists, the White House announced on Tuesday.

Tapia and other recipients will be honored at a White House ceremony in October.

Since 1959, the National Medal of Science has been awarded annually to deserving of special recognition by reason of their outstanding contributions to knowledge in the physical, biological, mathematical, or engineering sciences. In 1980, the recognition was expanded to include the social and behavioral sciences.

To date, 468 distinguished scientists and engineers have been recognized.

Each of these extraordinary scientists, engineers, and inventors is guided by a passion for innovation, a fearlessness even as they explore the very frontiers of human knowledge, and a desire to make the world a better place, President Barack Obama said in the White House statement.  Their ingenuity inspires us all to reach higher and try harder, no matter how difficult the challenges we face.

Tapia joined the Rice University faculty in 1970 and was bestowed with the honor of University Professor, the highest academic title in 2005. His research is focused on mathematical optimization, nonlinear problems and iterative methods. But he is best known for his extraordinary effort to reach minority students and women.

According to Rice President David Leebron, he is recognized across the country as the person who has helped countless students, particularly Hispanic and African-American students, overcome obstacles and succeed in graduate studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This National Medal of Science is wonderful recognition of someone who has had tremendous influence and dedication both in his field and beyond. Richard is an extraordinary scientist and a great mathematician, but he's also had a much bigger impact on the world, Leebron added.

The White House cited Tapia for his pioneering and fundamental contributions in optimization theory and numerical analysis and for his dedication and sustained efforts in fostering diversity and excellence in mathematics and science education.

Tapia, a Mexican immigrant, was raised in Los Angeles and was the first in his family to attend college.