James A. M. Epperson was born in San Antonio, Texas. He grew up near Saspamco, Texas, on a farm originally purchased by his great grandparents after they immigrated to Texas in 1890 from Camargo, TamaulÃpas, MÃ©xico. His pursuit of higher Education was encouraged by his parents, in particular by his mother Olga Mendoza Alvarez and his step-father Jonas Alvarez. His mother grew up in an era of intense discrimination against Mexican Americans, but managed to graduate from high school at the age of fifteen, eventually receive both a bachelor's and a master's degree, and teach elementary school for forty years. His step-father, who immigrated to the United States in 1963, is also a teacher.
Epperson's mother always impressed upon him that "Education was the great equalizer and Education could never be taken away." That is, Mexican Americans help the community by becoming educated and positioning themselves in society to help others. Epperson is the fourth of six children all of whom attended college (3 Master's degrees, 1 Bachelor's, & 1 J.D.). Incidentally, Epperson is a seventh generation Tejano through his maternal grandmother and his cousin Dr. Severo Gomez, a science educator, was the first Mexican American Assistant Commissioner at the Texas Education Agency in the late 1960s early 1970s.
At a very early age, Epperson showed an interest in mathematics. Before attending first grade, he had already mastered the addition and subtraction that was commonly taught to first graders at that time. He continued to excel in mathematics and eagerly awaited seventh grade when he could begin to compete in Texas' University Interscholastic League (UIL) competitions in Number Sense. He consistently placed in this competition throughout junior high and high school.
Dr. Epperson always remembers his ninth grade Algebra I teacher, Miss Oralia Escamilla [now, Ms. Oralia Vela], as the best mathematics teacher he had in the public schools. Coincidentally, she was the only Mexican American mathematics teacher to teach him. She helped him study advanced material to compete in the Alamo District Council of Teachers of Mathematics Contest where he ranked among the three top scores in Algebra I. This competition involved the largest schools in the San Antonio area, so his placing in the contest from a smaller rural school was quite an accomplishment. Dr. Epperson sees his persistence in wanting to go beyond what was commonly taught in the mathematics courses in his high school as a key element in his later success in mathematics.
Epperson was valedictorian of his Floresville High School graduating class of 1984. Later, his sister Olga was also valedictorian of her class. Dr. Epperson received a scholarship to study engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, but decided instead to attend Texas A & M University--Commerce on a Presidential Merit Scholarship. He was reluctant to study engineering because he didn't really know what an engineer did. Epperson was quite an accomplished trumpet player but decided to pursue mathematics over music (partially influenced by his parents). However, throughout his studies he maintained an involvement in music and has been a member (baritone) of the Austin Civic Chorus and the Austin Singers as well as a trumpet player and vocalist in The University of Texas at Austin's Mariachi Paredes de Tejastitlan.
In college, he double majored in Mathematics and Physics. In his second year, Epperson decided that he enjoyed studying mathematics enough that he would pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics. Since he placed out of almost a full year of college credit, he graduated with Academic Distinction in six semesters from Texas A & M--Commerce. In addition, he received the "Outstanding Senior Physics Major Award" from the Physics Department and the David Ayers Mathematics Scholarship from the Mathematics Department.
Epperson entered graduate school at The University of Texas at Austin on a Graduate Opportunity Fellowship in 1987. His Ph.D. advisor Dr. William Beckner was instrumental in helping him find a challenging and interesting topic for his research whichfocused on examining the critical phenomena arising from a percolation process on a randomized model of the Sierpinski carpet using probability theory and fractal geometry.
While in graduate school, Epperson became involved in the Emerging Scholars Program. This honors-type program--originally created by Uri Treisman at UC-Berkeley--that targets students underrepresented in the mathematics-based disciplines by providing a challenging environment centered on community and collaboration. Not only was this a great program, it appealed personally to Epperson because of his own experience as a minority in mathematics. He became heavily involved in teaching in the program as well as training faculty and graduate students nationwide in how to lead the intensive mathematics classes required in the ESP program. He also jointly presented workshops with Dr. Treisman on several occasions. This work led to a post-doctoral position at The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
As a professor of mathematics at The University of Texas at Arlington, Dr. Epperson's current interests center on increasing access to mathematics through improved preparation of mathematics teachers and curriculum development. He has overseen the overall program mission for Master of Arts programs for inservice secondary teachers at Texas Tech University and The University of Texas at Arlington. He has received funding from the U.S. Department of Education (Fund for the Improvement for Postsecondary Education), Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Education Agency to support his work.