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Black History Month
2018 Honoree

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Illya V. Hicks

Illya V. Hicks

Faculty Advisor to the President

Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics

Rice University


Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Waco, Tx.  My dad was a mechanic who owned his own garage and my mother was a factory worker.  I graduated from Waco High School and got a football scholarship to Southwest Texas State University (now known as Texas State University).  I majored in math and minored in physics in college.  I received my Ph.D. from Rice in the computational and applied mathematics department with an emphasis on operations research.  I was intrigued how the problems in this area are easy to understand but still are incredibly hard to solve.


Please describe an experience (or 2) that helped you discover/ cultivate your interest in the mathematical sciences.  

I was always good at math.  I used to challenge myself to where I wouldn’t let problems beat me.  I always strived for 100.  Never liked when problems got the best of me.

There is a picture of me in my classic leaning position in calculus class (see below).  That is how I was.  I would be just chilling in calculus; the problems were easy to me.

I remember getting a perfect score on the AP calculus exam and the academic advisor for my college athletics program said that I didn’t need study hall but should consider graduate school.  I was like “Ma’am, I’m only a freshman!”.  She said, “I don’t care. You still should consider going to graduate school”.  She was also dean of general studies at the school.


What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your career in the mathematical sciences?

Certainly successfully defending my dissertation, achieving tenure and being promoted to full professor are great accomplishments.  I am also most proud of solving a conjecture about the relation of branch decompositions, graphs, and graphic matroids.  I remember when I thought I had a proof of the conjecture and I sent it to Jim Geelen.  Geelen found a fatal flaw in my argument and I remember telling him in an email that I would solve the conjecture.  Sure glad I was able to back up my words lol.


What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your personal life?

Being a husband and father.


Please share some words of wisdom/inspiration.

There a few mantras I try to follow:

1) Be a finisher.  If you start something; finish and finish strong.  This is related to persistence and perseverance.  I am reminded of the quote by Calvin Coolidge:  “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”  I am also reminded of the quote about Mike Tyson:  “Everyone has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth”.  Keep pressing forward.

2) Don’t make excuses; make adjustments.  Apologies and excuses are not the same.  Excuses deflect accountability.  Accept responsibility, learn from it, and make adjustments to avoid it in the future.

3) Encourage yourself.  When nobody else is around, you still have yourself.

4) Enjoy this journey of life.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint.