Research Magazine- Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science - The University of Texas at Dallas

Spong Steps Down as Dean

Spong Steps Down

Dr. Mark W. Spong stepped down in fall of 2017 from being the fourth dean of the Jonsson School. A world leader in robotics research and education, he returned to regular faculty duties as a professor of systems engineering and electrical and computer engineering. During his tenure as dean from 2008 until 2017, Spong led the Jonsson School through transformative growth, and in example of research and teaching excellence. These photos present only a snapshot of his impact.

Spong’s mentor, Dr. T.J. Tarn of Washington University in St. Louis, joined Spong at the 2009 investiture ceremony. Spong held two endowed chairs while dean: the Lars Magnus Ericsson Chair in Electrical Engineering and the Excellence in Education Chair. Under his leadership, the Jonsson School tripled the number of faculty members who held endowed chairs and professorships.

Spong served as dean under two University presidents: Dr. David E. Daniel (left), a civil engineer who is now Deputy Chancellor of the University of Texas System; and Dr. Richard C. Benson, a mechanical engineer who joined the University in 2016 after serving as dean of Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. The three gathered in 2016 at the dedication of the Bioengineering and Sciences Building, one of two new buildings for research and education constructed while Spong was dean.

Nine degree plans and four departments were developed during Spong’s time as dean. Some of his department heads from left to right are: Dr. Mario A. Rotea (seated left) of mechanical engineering; Dr. Mehrdad Nourani, associate head of electrical and computer engineering (ECE); Spong; Dr. Gopal Gupta of computer science; Dr. Stephen Yurkovich of systems engineering; Dr. Lawrence Overzet of ECE; and Dr. Yves Chabal (seated right) of materials science and engineering.


Spong helped unload equipment donated by Texas Instruments Inc. Strengthening external ties was a priority for Spong. In recognition of his service toward the “advancement of technology for economic prosperity, quality of life, and security to our nation, our state and our city,” the mayor of the City of Richardson, Texas, named Spong a “hometown technology hero” and declared Aug. 18, 2017, as Dean Spong Day.

Spong established and directed the Laboratory for Autonomous Robotics and Systems (LARS), which has attracted highly motivated students such as Hazen Eckert (left) and Dr. Hasan Poonawala (center). Here they demonstrate some of their work to Hugh Herr (right), who heads the biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab. Eckert earned three bachelor’s degrees from UT Dallas, and Poonawala earned his PhD under Spong and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin.

In 2013, 60 of the most renowned researchers in the robotics and control fields came to UT Dallas for the two-day International Workshop on Recent Developments in Robotics and Control. The event was held in recognition of Spong’s contributions and leadership in the fields on the occasion of his 60th birthday.


Spong and his wife, Lila, enjoy a workshop dinner. While leading the Jonsson School, Spong continued to earn recognitions from his peers, such as the 2011 Pioneer in Robotics and Automation Award from IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Robotics and Automation Society; and the Nyquist Lecturer Prize, awarded by the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Dynamic Systems and Control Division.

Spong is the founder of UTDesign®, the Jonsson School’s team-oriented capstone experience that has earned accolades from educational and industry groups. In 2014, Spong and Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, then the University’s executive vice president and provost, cut the ribbon at the UTDesign® studio. At more than 30,000 square feet, the studio is one of the largest of such spaces in the country.


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