C. Mauli Agrawal holds David and Jennifer Spencer Distinguished Chair for the Dean of Engineering

Mauli Agrawal

C. Mauli Agrawal
(Photo by Mark McClendon)

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(Nov. 13, 2009)--C. Mauli Agrawal, professor and dean of the UTSA College of Engineering, holds the David and Jennifer Spencer Distinguished Chair for the Dean of Engineering.

One of 36 endowed faculty positions at UTSA, this endowment was established with a generous gift to UTSA in 2007 by David A. Spencer and his wife, Jennifer Spencer '93. A San Antonio-based entrepreneur and founder of Mandelbrot Ventures, an investment firm, and OnBoard Software Inc., a technology company, Spencer also helped found the nonprofit organization San Antonio Technology Accelerator Initiative (SATAI). The Spencers have been longtime supporters of the College of Engineering.

"Our goal is to use this generous gift in various ways that move the college forward to tier-one status," said Agrawal, who envisions a symbiotic relationship between UTSA and the city.

"If UTSA flourishes, the city will flourish," added Agrawal. "If you look at all the cities that are really doing well, they have strong technology sectors. If you get more technology, you get more companies and get more jobs."

An expert in biomedical engineering who came to UTSA in 2003, Agrawal is using this discretionary funding to move UTSA's agenda forward and to benefit students and faculty alike. For example, Spencer endowment funds helped to support the College of Engineering's collaboration with the College of Business' Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship (CITE), create a student ambassador program, provide start-up research funding for new faculty, support student competitions, and reward faculty and staff excellence, to name just a few examples.

"We keep it flexible, year to year, whatever the needs may be," Agrawal said.

For example, the endowment supports senior engineering majors to develop capstone engineering projects in the area of energy production and conservation into viable commercial inventions. The annual CITE Student Technology Venture Competition fosters technological innovation and gives students a taste of life as an entrepreneur.

Endowment funds supported a new student ambassador program in the College of Engineering this fall. Agrawal's staff will train selected undergraduates in leadership practices, as well as making sure they are informed about the news, achievements and goals within the college. They will showcase the college's strengths to visiting community leaders and build students' professional development skills.

"They can also help with high school recruitment and outreach," Agrawal said. The students will be paid a stipend.

Since 2000, members of the Student Automotive Engineers (SAE) have designed, built and fielded a racecar in Formula-SAE competition. The dean provides a small amount of seed money for the project, but after that the students are on their own in every aspect.

"We are making steady progress in the competition," said Agrawal, adding that in recent years UTSA's teams have made it into the top 30 in competition.

Having start-up funding for new faculty members to grow and develop their ideas is also a key function of the distinguished chair. "The overall goal is to use this [endowment] for starting up ideas, and then once those ideas develop and we're showing progress, find other sources for revenue," Agrawal added.

Finally, the endowment is making possible the ability to share knowledge among students and National Academy-level researchers who will come to UTSA for short-term residencies with students and faculty. "These kinds of activities do not have funding elsewhere," Agrawal said.

"Jennifer and I recognize the impact a Tier One research university will have on the future of San Antonio. We felt there was no better place for us to support that quest than at the College of Engineering at UTSA," said Spencer. "Simply put, engineering graduates are great for our community and great for our economy. And, giving Dean Agrawal the ability to be creative in how he applies these funds had extra appeal."