Manuel P. Berriozábal was born in San Antonio, Texas but grew up in Independence, Missouri. His father came to the United States in 1910 from Durango, Mexico; his mother is of German descent. Although his parents could only provide him with very little financial support for college, he attributes their help to supporting him in other ways. "They impressed upon me the importance of learning and making the most of Educational opportunities. Neither of them went to college. I was the first in the family."
Berriozábal explains that he developed a love for math at a very early age. He especially enjoyed the organization and structure that math provides. However, for him working with math figures did not come quite so easily. "I was not a gifted student. I had to work hard in school," he said.
It was a small parochial school in Kansas City, Missouri where he was inspired by a special seventh-grade teacher named Sister Mary James. She encouraged and nurtured his academic aspirations and provided him with his visions for the future. "When I had doubts, Sister Mary James would tell me I could do it," he recalls.
She chose a small group of promising math students and prepared them for the scholarship competition at the prestigious De La Salle Academy. He won a scholarship and attended De La Salle. In a particular geometry class, Berriozábal came to a lifelong realization and understanding about math and its meaningful relationship to life. "I realized then, and I continue to realize today, that logical thinking and problem solving can be applied to every aspect of life. Once that is understood, we are no longer victims of fate, blind faith, or memorized patterns."
Berriozábal continued his Educational goals and was awarded the Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from Rockhurst College in 1952; a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the University of Notre Dame in 1956; and a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1961.
After he served for one year as a lecturer at UCLA, he joined the faculty at Tulane University as an Assistant Professor. Four years later, he joined the faculty as an Associate Professor at the University of New Orleans. He was promoted to Professor six years later. He joined the faculty at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) in 1976.
In 1979, a feature story on UTSA in a local magazine quoted an anonymous member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board concerning his opposition to approving an engineering program at UTSA: "the Mexican-American community is not where engineers come from anyway." This quote would serve as a catalyst for a highly successful achievement in mathematics Education.
That very same year, Berriozábal started the now nationally recognized Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP) at UTSA. His colleagues were skeptical about the program surviving. "I was told it was going to fail miserably because you cannot get high schoolers to study math for eight weeks in the summer," he recalls, and they said minority students would not survive the structure and disciplined environment.
Students did indeed survive and they have prospered in the intensive 8-week summer mathematics enrichment program. Each year, a number of students who have successfully completed PREP are awarded scholarships and graduate from well-known colleges and universities throughout Texas and the United States in the fields of engineering, science and mathematics.
PREP is currently conducted at 8 college campuses located in San Antonio as well as 15 other college sites throughout 13 other cities in Texas. In its 20 summers of operation, over 7500 middle and high school students have completed at least one summer of San Antonio PREP. Of these students, 5300 have been Hispanic. The high school graduation rate of PREP participants has been 99.9%, the college entrance rate is 92%, and their college graduation rate is 87%. Of the college graduates, 53% have majored in science and engineering. Moreover, San Antonio PREP in the past year received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring and a La Promesa Program Award from the National Latino Children's Institute. Several years ago, TexPREP received a special commendation from the Texas Senate.
It is these accomplishments that caught the attention of the Washington, DC-based Quality Education for Minorities Network and resulted in Berriozábal being named one of the six Giants in Science at a conference held in February 1998. In May 1998, he was a recipient of the San Antonio "I Have a Dream" Foundation Endeavors Award. PREP has also been replicated on eight college campuses in 8 states outside of Texas. This effort, called PROYECTO Access, has been conducted jointly by NASA, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, UTSA, and the TexPREP office since 1996.
Berriozábal's wife of 23 years, the former Maria Antonietta Rodriguez, was a member of the San Antonio City Council 1981-1991 and is widely known locally for her commitment to the community. She reminds us all that he is committed to the program he began twenty years ago. "He's deeply passionate about Education and has a faith in young people and their abilities, " she said. "Whether we are at receptions, or at a wedding, or coming out of church, he's usually talking to someone about PREP or trying to steer a young person toward math."
It is this sentiment that keeps the 67-year-old professor and director from retiring and continuing to work for the promotion of young people in the sciences. "Looking back, there were crucial times in my life when people stepped in and encouraged me to persist," he said. "I consider it a great privilege to serve students and help them make the most of their abilities."
[Manuel P. Berriozábal]