University of Houston renames engineering building in name of Indian American couple

Durga D. Agrawal, Sushila Agrawal, Chancellor Renu Khator, and Dr. Khator, celebrating outside of the building, after the University of Houston renamed the engineering building as the Durga D. and Sushila Agrawal Engineering Research Building. Photo courtesy of the Agrawals.

Dr. Durga D. Agrawal, a longtime Houston resident, is well known for giving back to the community, particularly to his alma mater – the University of Houston (UH).

One April 26, 2019, the University recognized his sizable and generous gift by renaming the engineering building as the Durga D. and Sushila Agrawal Engineering Research Building. A floor is also named after the couple and the gift will provide ongoing support for faculty, students, research and building operations, according to a press release.

Chancellor Renu Khator, Consul General of India Dr. Anupam Ray, members of the Indian community, students, faculty, Dr. Agrawal’s children, grandchildren and colleagues were present at the ribbon cutting ceremony.

In his remarks, Dr. Agrawal credited several people for his success. He expressed his admiration and respect for his professors at UH like Dr. Rhodes (who was present at the ceremony), Dr. Donaghey, Dr. Dawkins and Dr. Elrod who “put their heart and soul” into teaching students including some like him who had trouble understanding both the language and the American accent.

He traced his values of compassion, giving back and respect for education to his parents and acknowledged his wife Sushila’s support and patience without which, he said, he would not have completed his doctorate or built his business.

UH, he concluded, “has a very special place in my heart. We must keep the torch of knowledge, excellence and innovation growing and glowing.”

Khator tweeted: “Today, we named the new Engineering building after Dr. and Mrs. Durga Agrawal, our alum and regent to celebrate their generosity. Your gift will inspire our students and alumni for many generations! Thank you.

Over the years, Dr. Agrawal, who is 74, has been providing endowments, scholarships and internships for UH students. In 2013, he was named a member of the UH System Board of Regents by Texas Governor Rick Perry. He hopes his contributions “will encourage additional donors and attract high-caliber students, especially since many UH students are from the Houston area and will most likely stay here upon graduation to pursue their careers.”

The building on campus bears no resemblance to the one Dr. Durga studied in but has been rebuilt on the same piece of land. UH’s engineering college boasts of more than 4,200 students, including over 1,150 graduate students, enrolled in 10 engineering disciplines, as well as several interdisciplinary graduate programs.

Dr. Agrawal’s kindness and generosity isn’t limited to giving donations but also comes across in small gestures. When Houston was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, Dr. Agrawal and members of his family showed up at the campus with vans to transport stranded students to other locations and even took many home.

His deep seated value for education probably stems from his own early struggles for educational opportunities.  He was born in Lakhanpur, a small village in Madhya Pradesh in India with a population of 700. The village did not have a water supply system, electricity or high school which meant that he had to cycle or sometimes even walk to the high school 13 miles away.

He was also the bookkeeper for his father’s prosperous business from the time he was in elementary school and reveals that “when you work in the family business, you learn a lot.”  

Encouraged by his parents, he attended one of the best engineering schools in India, IIT, New Delhi. In 1968, he came to Houston to pursue his Masters in Industrial engineering and in 1974 added a Doctorate to his resume, both from the UH Cullen College of Engineering.  He attributes his present success to the two institutions equally and gives back unstintingly to both. As he says “giving back to the community is important and there’s no other field where money invested gives back more returns than education.”

In 1975, Dr. Durga put his entrepreneurship skills to the test by building his company Piping Technology and Products from scratch, out of his garage. The company is today one of the leading providers of pipes for industrial and construction needs and employs over a 1000 people.

Dr. Agrawal also earns high marks for his spirit of community service. He was the first major donor and Founding president of India House, a community center that offers free services and community programs.

As the founder and first President of the Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston, he has been part of many delegations to promote trade and the exchange of educational and medical resources between Houston and India. No stranger to high ranking elected officials, he was once introduced by President George Bush as “my good friend from Texas” at a State Dinner for Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Capitol Hill.

A regular practitioner of yoga, Dr. Agrawal is a key contributor to the S-Vyasa Yoga Center that was recently inaugurated in Houston.



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