When Ruth Gonzalez received her Ph.D. in applied mathematics in 1986 from Rice University, she became the first U.S.-born Hispanic woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics. Her thesis in computational mathematics, written under the supervision of Mary Wheeler, was entitled "Domain Decomposition for Two-Dimensional Elliptic Operators on Vector and Parallel Machines" [Abstract, Full Version].
Gonzalez, both of whose parents came from Mexico, was raised in Houston, Texas. Her interest in math and science developed throughout her elementary and high school education. Gonzalez completed her bachelor's degree in mathematics at the University of Texas in 1976, then did research at the Applied Research Laboratories at the University of Texas from 1976 to 1980. Her work involved developing mathematical models for wave propagation problems in underwater acoustics. These could be used, for example, to position submarines to avoid detection. Meanwhile she also earned her master's degree in mathematics at Texas.
In 1980 Gonzalez joined the Exxon Production Research Company. She completed her graduate work at Rice while working full-time as a geophysical mathematician at Exxon (now ExxonMobil). Her work at Exxon focused on the development of seismic imaging tools for exploring oil and gas reservoirs. In the 1990's she headed a team of researchers who developed technology to turn seismic data into three-dimensional views of rock formations deep inside the earth, thus helping other specialists to decide where to drill for oil and gas. She has also served as an advisor in the Geophysical Processing Department at ExxonMobil and is currently an advisor for the Project Facilitation Team of the ExxonMobil Exploration Company.
Gonzalez enjoys encouraging other minority women and girls to explore careers in math and science. She said in an interview in a 1998 Exxon publication that "if they can just see how much science affects them every day, these kids begin to understand its relevance in their lives and learn that math can be fun, not just some horrible subject the have to suffer through." Gonzalez has also served as a adult-literacy tutor at a program she supports at Rice University.