Agrawal comes to UMKC after 15 years at the University of Texas-San Antonio, where he progressed from professor to dean to vice president and interim provost. He is a native of India, a U.S. citizen, a bioengineer, oil painting hobbyist, former auto industry executive, an inventor who holds 29 patents and an entrepreneur whose bioengineering research group has been responsible for starting three companies in San Antonio.
He calls his new home town “a city on the rise.”
“Kansas City is an economically strong region that is poised to have a national impact,” he said. “As a public university, we can be one of the anchors for this great region. We’re ready and we have a great team.”
The UMKC community met their new chancellor at a welcome event Feb. 9, shortly after the University of Missouri System announced his appointment. In his first speech to students, faculty and staff, Agrawal set out a broad vision for the university’s place in the community:
Public universities were created with the goal of bringing enhanced prosperity to their region. They do this by being knowledge enterprises – they both disseminate knowledge and create new knowledge. I believe they have an unwritten but binding social contract with their communities to be instrumental and perhaps even partly accountable for the economic development of the region and the social, cultural and health well-being of the city and the region.
This is where the modern urban university can play a very significant role. In this model, the city becomes a test bed for solutions for societal issues – solutions that are based on university research and scholarship to impact the neighborhoods and communities that surround us.
For Kansas City to be great, UMKC has to be great because all great cities are anchored by a great university. I am confident that with UMKC and the city working together, UMKC will become a university recognized widely for its excellence and Kansas City will emerge as one of the top cities of the 21st century.
It us our time and our turn for “spectacular” to happen!
He told the assembly “I think of myself primarily as a faculty member,” and added “I will ensure that UMKC has a culture that is student focused.”
He’s also dedicated to his family. His mother, Raj, is 87 and lives with Agrawal and his wife. Mauli and Sue have two children – Ethan, 24, who graduated from Rice University with a degree in chemical engineering, and Serena, 21, a junior who is studying mechanical engineering at Rice.
Mauli Agrawal was born in Allahabad, India, as the younger of two siblings. His father was the first in his family to attend college and his mother was the first woman in her family to attend college. His mother eventually obtained her doctorate at a time in India when most women did not even attend college.
Agrawal grew up in a home with no television, no refrigerator and no air conditioning, which was especially evident on days when the heat climbed to 115 degrees. Wild animals were not uncommon in the neighborhood, and Agrawal often found himself chasing monkeys away from his yard or watching elephants parade down the streets. Yet, tucked away in his bedroom, his walls sported pictures and newspaper clippings of the Apollo 11 mission. Agrawal said it was this inspiration that led him on his academic path.
“It was the moonshot,” he said. “I was crazy about the Apollo 11 mission. It was that event that got me excited about technology and set me on my career.”
He graduated from one of India’s top schools, the Indian Institute of Technology, with a bachelor’s degree in technology. He started his professional career in quality control for an automobile company in India. Eventually, he decided to make his way to the U.S.
“I arrived in the U.S. with $100 and a suitcase full of clothes,” Agrawal said. “That was all I had to start living the American dream. Now I see others struggling to achieve that dream, and I feel committed to help them accomplish their goals; it is what drives me every day.”
After getting a master’s degree from Clemson University and a doctorate from Duke University, both in mechanical engineering, Agrawal’s academic career included stints as a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center and the University of Texas at San Antonio. At UTSA, he was tapped for leadership roles, including dean of the College of Engineering and vice president for research. Under his leadership, Agrawal led the College of Engineering to a 40 percent increase in student enrollment, a 50 percent increase in faculty and a 400 percent increase in research funding.
Agrawal’s research specializes in the area of orthopedic and cardiovascular biomaterials and implants. He is a Fellow of Biomaterials Science and Engineering, the National Academy of Inventors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. Additionally, he served as president of the Society for Biomaterials in 2006.
“I’m very excited to be chosen to help lead this great university. The potential for the University of Missouri-Kansas City is immense and exciting,” Agrawal said. “UMKC has all the elements necessary to make a great university. With strengths in medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, business, engineering, arts and theater, the university is an exceptional anchor for economic development in the Kansas City region. I’m looking forward to working with UMKC’s faculty and staff as well as Kansas City’s civic leaders who are passionate about higher education and are constantly working to make Kansas City a great place to live, learn and work.”