Posted on May 21, 2024 by Mario J. Gonzalez, Richard S. Howe

First cohort of Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering graduates in 1984.

First cohort of Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering graduates in 1984.


It goes without saying that memories dim with time. In what follows some of the facts, data, and names of individuals and their contributions may not be exact. The important thing is the story as faculty and friends of engineering at UTSA remember it. We apologize if we have omitted other important players and their contributions. 

Writing this has brought back many memories (and many stories) of the early days, some real, some imagined, but always told  with pride at what small hopes and dreams have become with engineering at UTSA.


The origins of engineering at UTSA had two drivers. First, the business community in San Antonio held the position that engineering at UTSA would have a powerful influence on the economy of the greater San Antonio area and beyond in terms of existing and future companies that would hire engineers, thereby raising the level of professionalism in the community at large and infuse the community with new sources of disposable income. 

Second, at the time that the story of engineering at UTSA began, San Antonio was the largest city in the U.S. without an engineering program at a public university. At that time the population of San Antonio was 785,880, the eleventh largest city in the U.S.[1] This became the rallying cry of everything that would be done to get approval for an engineering program at UTSA. 

Those were the drivers. With the approval of the president of UTSA, the process to establish an engineering program at UTSA was allowed to proceed.

 Many challenges would have to be overcome if an engineering program was to be established at UTSA. The foremost challenge was represented by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “The Board works with the state legislature, governor, colleges and universities to coordinate Texas higher education.”[2]  In simple terms, if ever there was to be an engineering program at UTSA, the approval of the Coordinating Board was required. 

Another major challenge was posed by the deans of engineering at several of the leading engineering schools in the state of Texas. These deans opposed the creation of an engineering program at UTSA. Their rationale was this: the pie that represented the allocation of state funds for engineering programs was not going to grow, and granting approval to UTSA would only reduce the funds available to existing programs. 

In the various questionnaires that would be submitted to guide the decision-making process at the Coordinating Board there was one especially critical question: In what academic unit would the proposed engineering program be housed? The answer was simple: The College of Science and Mathematics (COSAM). In its infancy UTSA was organized into multidisciplinary units in order to promote discussions and collaborations between faculty and between students enrolled in different academic disciplines. The reason for combining science and mathematics was obvious. With the strong support and guidance of the dean of COSAM, Chuck Hathaway, the work that needed to be done at UTSA was completed. At that point, all that remained was the decision by the Coordinating Board on the big day: Yea or Nay. 

The Big Day

A regular meeting of the Coordinating Board was held in October, 1981. Prior to that day, one of the most important dates in UTSA history, the omens regarding the UTSA petition were not positive. To the contrary, many people in the know and supporters of UTSA in Austin reported that the outcome of the petition would not be received favorably.

In a roomful of attendees, San Antonio business leaders, UTSA leadership including Dean Hathaway, faculty and staff, and prominent supporters and UTSA alumni spoke in support of the UTSA petition. Their words varied around a few expected themes: an increase in the academic status at UTSA, more educational opportunities in the community, and higher-paying jobs.

The attitude among members of the Board was not difficult to discern: some were writing, some listening, some talking to each other. Most of what San Antonio and UTSA needed to be said had been said. The vote that would decide whether or not UTSA was to have an engineering program was only a few minutes away. However, UTSA had one speaker left, the last one: Mayor Henry Cisneros.

In his Lincolnesque and articulate way, Mayor Cisneros spoke for a very short time, perhaps no longer than two minutes, during which he echoed the key points of those who had preceded him in earlier remarks. In his last two sentences he said: “We are not here to seek a handout; we are not here to seek charity. All we seek is an opportunity for the people of San Antonio to become first-class citizens of the great State of Texas.” [Note: This may not be an exact quote, but it’s close.]

The audience responded with a loud standing ovation. The dramatic change in the attitude of Board members was amazing. After the Board chair pounded the podium several times and called for a vote. The answer was a unanimous Yes. Few of us will ever experience such a magical moment. Thus was born the Division of Engineering and an Engineering Program at UTSA with concentrations in Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering, with classes to begin in the fall of 1982.

The Early Days

Mario Gonzalez was appointed Interim Director (later Director) of the Division of Engineering. The many tasks that would give the Division of Engineering a viable presence had to begin immediately.

Hire Faculty: Position openings had to be announced in leading engineering journals and other publications. It would take several months before the announcements appeared and applications began to trickle in and evaluated. Critical support for this process was provided by three colleagues who transitioned to the engineering program from the Division of Environmental Studies: Dr. Dick Howe, Dr. Dan Hogenauer, and Dr. Rocky Shih, all of whom filled faculty slots in the early days of the engineering program. As noted earlier, Dr. Howe, who arrived at UTSA in 1976 as Director of the Division of Environmental Studies, was heavily involved in the preparation of documentation that was submitted to the Coordinating Board. Dr. Howe added a remarkably widespread set of experiences that included positions in the Division of Environmental Studies, the UT LBJ School Public Affairs, and the UT School of Public Health.

Staff support for this and everything else that had to be done was limited to a half-time administrative assistant.

As prospective faculty applicants were identified, resumes were discussed and evaluated. Selected applicants were contacted and invited to a visit to campus, were met at the airport, and taken to a hotel either before or after a welcoming meal. They were escorted around campus to meet with selected faculty and administrators, made a presentation that focused on their doctoral research, and after a couple of days, returned to the airport. This process yielded two “pioneers,” stalwarts who were still with the program forty years later: Dr. Alberto Arroyo (Civil Engineering) and Dr. Amir Karimi (Mechanical Engineering), later to be joined by another pioneer, Dr. Hamid Khan who focused on engineering design and design software. Many other outstanding individuals joined the program in the following years and comprised the core of the engineering disciplines that exist today.

Laboratory Space: In a few words, there was no space available for engineering laboratories. With a lot of scrambling, ingenuity, and various levels of approvals, it was decided to house engineering laboratories in the undeveloped space below the Multidisciplinary Studies building. At that time all anyone could see in that area was undeveloped space with a dirt and gravel floor and materials left over from the construction of the building. With hard work and the leadership of the UTSA Physical Plant, in a few astonishing months a concrete floor was laid, walls were erected, utilities were brought in, and provisions were made to house equipment for the three engineering disciplines.

While laboratory spaces were being created, the equipment that was to be located in each of the new spaces had to be identified. A small number of faculty and staff visited several universities not only to determine what other programs were doing, but also to seek advice regarding essential equipment that was needed at the start of the new program. Armed with this knowledge and within the available budget, equipment arrived during the summer of 1982. Recall that the process of hiring faculty who would not arrive until September was still underway. Everyone associated with the new program hoped that the right choices had been, because right or not, the new faculty would have to do their job with what had been purchased. (For the most part, the decisions turned out to be the right ones.)

Student Applications: From the first day of the new venture, area high school seniors and potential transfers that the engineering program would be open for business in September had to be informed. During the first six or seven months of 1982 approximately 400 applications for admission to the engineering program were received. Each of these applications (from students who had already been admitted to UTSA), had to be reviewed to determine proper placement in the engineering curriculum. Not surprisingly, the primary requirements for placement were mathematics (ready for Calculus I?) and physics (were previous physics courses calculus based?).

The Early Years

During the spring and summer of 1982 an enormous amount of work was done by a small number of people to enable the engineering program to take off on time, and it did!

Hiring of faculty (every year outstanding applicants accepted the invitation to join the faculty), and laboratory development and admission of students continued without pause.

From the beginning, the primary driver for the new engineering program was the emphasis on quality. Coincident with this overall theme was an equally important goal: achievement of accreditation at the earliest possible time by ABET, the U.S. agency that accredited programs in the U.S. and later, abroad.

Accreditation and Critical Changes

The spring and early summer of 1986 witnessed the preparation of a comprehensive self-study that was submitted to ABET in June of that year. The evaluation of the program included general criteria (including students, program objectives, program goals, faculty, communication skills, laboratories, engineering ethics, and financial support from
the institution) and criteria unique to each of the concentrations.

A key requirement for accreditation was that a petitioning program should have produced at least one graduation class. Since the first cohort of engineering program graduates emerged in 1984, that box was checked readily.

In October of that year an ABET evaluation team arrived on campus to conduct a rigorous, comprehensive evaluation of the engineering program based on the general and program criteria cited earlier.

In the late summer of 1987 UTSA received the good news: The BS Program in Civil Engineering, BS Program in Electrical Engineering, and the BS Program in Mechanical were accredited for three years on its first attempt.


It is from these early beginnings that years later the ECE program emerged after a name change. With outstanding leadership, excellent students, beautiful laboratories and offices, 34 faculty, and 667 undergraduate and 177 graduate students, challenging concentrations, and forward-looking objectives, the ECE program continues to fulfill the expected outcomes presented to the Coordinating Board over forty years ago. 

— Mario J. Gonzalez, Richard S. Howe

mario-gonzalez.pngDr. Mario J. Gonzalez, born on November 11, 1941, in Laredo, Texas, attended St. Joseph’s Academy for high school in his hometown. He pursued his post-secondary education at the University of Texas at Austin, earning his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering (BSEE) in 1964, followed by his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE) in 1969, and ultimately his Ph.D. in 1971.

He worked at The Boeing Co. in Seattle, Washington, from 1964 to 1965. Following this, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1967, stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, with the 35th Combat Engineering Battalion, and later in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, with the 84th Construction Engineering Battalion. After his military service, Gonzalez worked at Texas Instruments from 1971 to 1973. He then transitioned into academia, serving as a faculty member at Northwestern University from 1973 to 1977. From 1977 to 1986, Gonzalez was a faculty member at The University of Texas at San Antonio, where he also served as Director of the Division of Engineering. His tenure at The University of Texas at Austin, from 1986 to 2004, saw him take on various leadership roles including Associate Dean, Department Chair, and Vice Chancellor. He currently holds the title of Professor Emeritus.

Dr. Gonzalez is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), and ABET, Inc.

richard-howe.pngDr. Richard S. Howe, born on August 30, 1936, Centralia, Illinois, attended Carbondale Community High School in his hometown. He pursued his post-secondary education at the University of Kentucky (grant-in-aid basketball), earning his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering (BSCE) in 1959, followed by his Master of Science in Sanitary Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1961.

He worked at U. S. Public Health Service from 1961 to 1963. Following this, he served as an instructor at SIU-Carbondale School of Technology from 1963 to 1967. He then went back to college at University of Wisconsin at Madison to obtain his MS in Water Resources Management in 1968, MS in Urban and Regional Planning in 1969, PhD in Resource Management in 1971. He worked at the Department of Environmental Control for the City of Chicago from 1970 to 1972. From 1972 to 1976, Howe served as a Professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, where he was the first faculty hired from outside. From 1976 to 2001, Howe was a faculty member at The University of Texas at San Antonio, where he also served as Director for Division of Environmental Studies and Professor of Civil Engineering. During this period, he participated in civic activities including United San Antonio/Target ’90, CPS Energy Study, various Water Resource studies, the Alliance for Education, Junior Achievement (taught at Wrenn Middle School–1 class per week for a couple of years with Ms. Manitzas’ class), Design San Antonio, etc.

Dr. Howe is a Professor Emeritus. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).



[2] The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Political Organization and Office.