Xyoli Pérez-Campos receives 2019 Early- to Mid-Career Alumni Award
Stanford Earth’s Early- to Mid-Career Alumni Award is presented annually to alumni who have earned a degree within the past 20 years and made significant contributions to civil, government, business, or academic communities.
The School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences awarded the 2019 Early- to Mid-Career Alumni Award to Xyoli Pérez-Campos for her outstanding contributions to seismicity research, earthquake preparedness, and public outreach in Mexico.
Pérez-Campos earned her PhD in geophysics in 2002 as an advisee of Greg Beroza, the Wayne Loel Professor in the Department of Geophysics. She holds positions as a professor at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), as well as head of the Servicio Sismológico Nacional (SSN), the National Seismological Service of Mexico, making her the “public face of earthquakes in Mexico,” according to Beroza.
“She’s in charge of earthquake monitoring for the entire country,” Beroza said. “This is an exceptionally demanding job and due to Mexico’s high rate of damaging earthquakes, she has been exceptionally busy in that role. Through all of this, she managed to raise funds for and to construct a new, modern building for the Seismological Service.”
As head of the service, Pérez-Campos has expanded the SSN’s one channel for interacting with the public to several outlets, including social media. She has also initiated outreach to people who live near earthquakes.
Her leadership and propensity for calm during calamity were proven during the September 2017 earthquakes that struck Mexico, leveling dozens of buildings in Mexico City, killing hundreds, and producing countless aftershocks.
“Those were a major thing and that’s positioned me within the public and authorities in Mexico and gave me a forum or audience for my voice in Mexico,” Pérez-Campos said.
I want to continue positioning seismology in Mexico in a very big way.
Her research explores seismic energy and how it connects to the seismic source, as well as the identification of factors that contribute to damage potential and tsunami early warning. In her position with the SSN, Pérez-Campos has improved disaster communications and earthquake and tsunami preparedness across the seismically active country.
“I want to continue positioning seismology in Mexico in a very big way,” Pérez-Campos said. “We have come up as a community as having bigger and more significant projects – I want to put my ideas forward to politicians and authorities.”
Pérez-Campos began her professional career in 2004 as an assistant professor in the School of Engineering at UNAM following a year as a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology. She transferred to Geophysics at UNAM in 2005 and rose through the ranks to become a full professor in 2012.
“I like finding new stuff, putting forward new questions, trying to solve puzzles,” she said.
Pérez-Campos brings this passion for research to the graduate and undergraduate students she advises. She emphasized the many paths opened by a geophysics education, from looking into the deep core of Earth all the way to space. You can do it as a scientist or a field engineer or in looking for resources, she said, or you can do basic science and come up with the next big breakthrough.
If I want a better country, I better prepare good engineers.
“I think when you teach you are making your own future because you are preparing the next generation,” she said. “If I want a better country, I better prepare good engineers.”
When Pérez-Campos was selected to lead the SSN in 2014 – Mexico’s equivalent of the Advanced National Seismic System of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) – her responsibilities multiplied. The 24/7 position includes managing the country’s seismological networks, monitoring seismicity, and communicating earthquakes above Magnitude 5.5 through the national disaster prevention center and tsunami warning center.
With her credibility as a researcher and influence as a public figure, she hopes to initiate a complete open-data policy for Mexico.
“I managed to do it for one set of data and I’m still fighting for the other two,” she said. “I think it’s very important for the whole world. As a citizen, I want to get answers right away. I think if we open the data, we become very competitive. I think it’s for the good of us as researchers and as citizens.”
Pérez-Campos accepted her award during Stanford Earth’s diploma ceremony June 16.
“I was actually speechless when Stephen called me,” she said during an awards ceremony held at the Faculty Club June 14. “It made me realize what I have done and achieved.”
Beroza shared stories about his experience as an advisor to Pérez-Campos – and as an audience member to her hobby, folkloric dancing.
“Greg was everything I needed from an advisor – he supported me not only in my interests…he showed me that balancing life was important,” she said.
Pérez-Campos thanked her mentors, her family, and her parents, who taught her to love Mexico and to work for a better future. She closed her acknowledgments by encouraging students to “take passion for what you do.”
Pérez-Campos received an MS in statistics from Stanford in 2001, an MS in geophysics from Stanford in 1999, and a bachelor’s degree in geophysical engineering from UNAM in 1996. She is an associate editor for the academic journal Seismological Research Letters and holds leadership positions with the Seismological Society of America and the Latin American and Caribbean Seismological Commission. She was a board member of the Mexican Geophysical Union for 10 years and served as president from 2016 to 2017.