Not many on-campus events draw a diverse crowd that includes student athletes, musicians, mascot Kasey Roo, faculty and community members.
However, all of these people came together Friday morning to witness UMKC Chancellor-designate Mauli Agrawal and his wife Sue Agrawal’s first visit to the university. Dancers ruffled pompoms as the chattering audience filed in to the Olson Performing Arts Center, but the clamor settled as Agrawal headed to the podium for his initial remarks.
He took small, measured steps and exchanged a business-like handshake with UM System President Mun Choi, but the two then shared a hug. This interaction reflects Agrawal’s vision: for UMKC to operate like a family.
“If we see a student struggling, we should ask, ‘What would I do if this was my child?’ If we ask that question, we’ll always know,” Agrawal said. “When I come to UMKC, I will have roughly 17 thousand children… which is a relief, because I currently have 31 thousand children.”
Agrawal was referring to the student body at University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), where he currently serves as interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. In fact, it was a conversation on UTSA’s campus with one of his mentors that inspired Agrawal to apply for the position— just 48 hours before the deadline.
“I looked at Kansas City, and I almost fell out of my chair,” he recalled. “This place is on the rise, on the move.”
A series of representatives from different UMKC departments strived to further emphasize this message. In true family fashion, they did it with thoughtful gifts. Each present— including university spirit wear, books written by faculty and Walt Disney’s drawing of the original kangaroo mascot— symbolized Agrawal’s newfound connection to the university.
While Interim Chancellor and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer and Chair of Faculty Senate Linda Mitchell lauded Agrawal as an inspiration, he turned the focus to his own heroes: his parents.
He recounted immigrating from India with them, with only one hundred dollars and a “little suitcase.”
Now, he has published over three hundred research articles and is a member of the prestigious National Academy of Inventors—a testament, he says, to the “ultimate gift” of education.
Though the ceremony could be described as formal, this pretense fell away towards its end. Agrawal led the crowd— which he dubbed “Roo Nation”—in a chant, then summed up his feelings with, “This is just overwhelming. I am really pumped.”
Going forward, Agrawal’s goals for UMKC include creating an exceptional student experience, championing multiculturalism and upholding university ideals through “resilient people, process and infrastructure.” Agrawal is set to assume the role of Chancellor on June 20, 2018.