C. Mauli Agrawal, new UMKC chancellor was inspired by parents, Apollo mission

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Christian Basi

NOTE: On Friday, Feb. 9, University of Missouri System President Mun Choi introduced C. Mauli Agrawal as the next chancellor at UMKC. Agrawal will begin his position on June 20. Below is a brief summary of his life story.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – C. Mauli Agrawal, recently appointed as UMKC’s chancellor, might have come from modest beginnings, but that hasn’t stopped him from shooting for the stars.

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.

Decades later, Agrawal would have the opportunity to meet Buzz Aldrin, one of the men who inspired his career.

Even though he was accepted into the Indian Institute of Technology, which had an acceptance rate of 1.5 percent and was considered to be one of the very top schools in the country, Agrawal’s road to the top spot at UMKC was not easy. After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in technology, he worked for an automobile company in India as an engineer, ensuring that products were delivered to vendors on time and in perfect condition. Eventually, he decided that a trip to the United States was something he needed to do.

“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 now spends his time trying to help every student he encounters.

“I have found that it’s difficult to help a mass of people, but you can do it if you help one person at a time,” Agrawal said. “Not everyone has access to an Ivy League school. It’s up to us to help each student graduate from a university with strong academic credentials and world-class faculty.”

He’s also dedicated to his family. His mother, Raj, is 87 and lives with Agrawal and his wife, Sue, who will celebrate 30 years of marriage this year. Agrawal has 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 University.

“I had nothing to do with their academic choices to study engineering, I swear,” Agrawal said. “Both of our children have been very successful in their studies, and their mother and I are very proud of their accomplishments.”

Following a career in academia that included stints as a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center and the University of Texas at San Antonio, 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. He also worked closely with the city of San Antonio on a major economic development project.

At the top of his “curriculum vitae,” the equivalent of an academic resume, Agrawal includes a “summary of highlights of roles and achievements,” but he also writes “with gratitude to coworkers and students who have made it all possible.”

“We have a lot of great elements at UMKC,” Agrawal said. “Medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, business, engineering, arts and theater – everything is here. Kansas City is an economically strong region that is poised to have a national impact. As a public university, we can be one of the anchors for this great region. We’re ready and we have a great team. I’m excited to be a part of this, and I’m looking toward an extremely bright future.”

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