Q & A With Founding Director Phaneendra Kondapi
Plans for the Cullen College of Engineering to expand into the Katy area grow more concrete each day as the construction of the University of Houston Katy Campus progresses. The 84,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building will open its doors to hundreds of UH engineering students in fall 2019.
It started out with baby steps – launching two energy-focused engineering courses at the Houston Community College (HCC) Northwest-Katy Campus in 2016 – and has since grown to more than 15 graduate-level courses. The 2019 offerings will be a giant leap: a full roster of undergraduate courses, graduate courses and certificate programs focused on areas in high demand across Houston's Energy Corridor, including petroleum, subsea, electrical and environmental engineering.
Spearheading this growth is a driven visionary named Phaneendra Kondapi, who embraces challenges and has a propensity to think big.
He helped start the first subsea engineering education program in the U.S. at the University of Houston and is a world renowned pioneering instructor in the field. He then went on to serve as the director of the subsea engineering program at Texas A&M University.
Kondapi returned to UH in 2017 and assumed two mantles – director of the UH subsea engineering program and founding director of engineering programs in Katy.
Originally from Vizag in the southern part of India, Kondapi moved to the Houston area for work – after completing his graduate studies from Tennessee – and has been living in Katy for the past 14 years. He’s excited to bring UH engineering to his community.
“I have a home, I have a family here, and my kids go to Katy ISD for school. I think that I have a responsibility to the community,” Kondapi said.
In addition to his background in academia, Kondapi has more than 20 years of experience managing engineering projects at energy industry giants FMC Technologies and KBR. He draws on his experience, knowledge and skillsets gained from both worlds to establish a solid foundation for UH engineering in Katy and educate future generations of engineers.
“If I have to make this engineering campus a successful one, I have to think big, and I have to dream big. I can’t do it by myself, all alone, so it’s about building partnerships and relationships ¬ with all the stakeholders,” he said.
Here Kondapi shares his thoughts about the expansion of UH Engineering into Katy, future plans for engineering programs in the area and educating the next generation of global engineers.
What is the mission for the engineering program in Katy?
PK: Our mission is to establish unique and industry-ready programs by providing a globally accessible and dynamic curriculum that meets both the high standards of academia as well as the needs and expectations of industry and the community.
What courses will be offered at the UH Katy campus?
PK: To begin with, we plan to offer three undergraduate programs in construction engineering, systems engineering and computer software engineering, as well as three master’s degrees in software engineering, corrosion engineering and engineering management, in addition to subsea engineering.
In addition to these, we will also offer a wide range of certificate courses: corrosion engineering, software engineering, engineering management, software quality assurance, global climate change and data analytics.
As the program matures, we will add more.
Why do we need UH Engineering programs in Katy?
PK: For four essential reasons: cost, convenience, location and industry need.
The Katy campus is strategically located at the intersection of the Grand Parkway and Interstate 10 on the west side of Houston, right next to the Energy Corridor, so it’s going to be very convenient for students from Sugarland, Cypress, The Woodlands, Houston, and, of course, the Katy community. Students – many of whom are likely to be working professionals – will be able to come to class straight from work and then return home and save on costs and time.
Students can also take online classes, which is another convenience. And plans are underway to partner with Houston Community College to offer undergraduate programs collaboratively, which – when it materializes – could dramatically reduce the tuition for undergraduate students.
Now let’s talk about industry. All the programs we are planning to offer, whether they are undergraduate, graduate or certificate programs, are focused on application. We want to prepare students for the industry so they are able to get into the workforce as soon as they graduate and hit the ground running.
What is your vision for UH Engineering in Katy?
PK: My vision is to make UH Engineering at the Katy campus a world-class center for engineering excellence and to grow enrollment there to 2,500 students by the year 2025. I call it my ‘25 by 25’ plan.
How do you plan to accomplish this vision?
PK: I have a three-pronged strategy.
The first one is to work with the local school districts: Katy ISD, Fort Bend ISD and Cypress ISD. We want to bring their students into the UH fold because that’s the location we’re serving. We want to make sure everyone understands that there’s a premier engineering college, a top tier university, in their community.
My approach will be to work with students from fifth to 11th grade. With this new initiative, G5-11, I want to introduce the basics of engineering – the possibilities – to the students, before they get into middle school.
We want to give them an introduction to engineering long before 11th grade, so when students start to take SAT or ACT exams, they’re prepared and thinking about engineering as a career option.
Second, we want to develop strong energy partners. We want to make sure that 100 percent of our students get into internships or co-ops, because that will allow them to work towards their career goals and prepare them for the industry. These opportunities often can turn into full-time jobs.
Third, we want to build a strong relationship with the community. The community has been waiting for a long time to have top-ranked engineering programs in their own backyards. If you look at either the Katy community or the adjacent communities, they don’t have an engineering school there, and they’re growing. In the last 15 to 20 years, be it The Woodlands or Sugar Land or Cyprus or Katy, all these four areas have had significant growth.
As part of UH, we are going to bring in more local students and create more local engineers for the community. We will be bringing more local talent to the industry – basically we are bridging the gap between two needs. This will help grow their area in terms of employment, tax base and more.
Any other goals?
PK: Oh yes, many. I want to create a unique subsea engineering museum, my dream project of a subsea research center, a corrosion engineering lab and an entrepreneurial innovation hub – but, all in due time.
Phaneendra Kondapi Bio:
With more than 20 years of experience managing engineering projects at energy industry giants FMC Technologies and KBR, Phaneendra "Phani" Kondapi brings a unique and invaluable skillset to his roles as founding director of the UH engineering programs at Katy and director of the subsea engineering program.
After serving as director of subsea engineering at Texas A&M University, Kondapi returned to UH in 2017. As founding director, he is leading the expansion of UH Engineering programs that are in high demand in Houston's Energy Corridor, including petroleum, subsea, civil, electrical and environmental engineering.
Kondapi, who was instrumental in developing the program, also led efforts to standardize global subsea education through the University's Global Subsea Education Alliance. One of the pioneering instructors in the college's subsea engineering program, Kondapi began teaching the inaugural "Flow Assurance" course at UH in 2011.
He received the 2013 SPE Teaching Excellence Award from the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) International, which recognizes petroleum engineering faculty who have demonstrated innovative teaching techniques and creative pedagogy methods in the classroom. Most recently he received both the SPE Gulf Coast Region 2017 Projects, Facilities and Construction Award and the Distinguished Achievement Award for petroleum engineering faculty.
Kondapi holds a B.S. and an M.S. in chemical engineering from Andhra University in India and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Tennessee Technological University.