Robert L. Woods, Ph.D.
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
College of Engineering
I was a born engineer and teacher. I have really found my passion in teaching engineering and influencing lives.
I believe that your parents are always your first teachers. I was born in Corpus Christ, Texas to my parents, Hector and Susana Aguilar. They taught me the meaning of hard work and perseverance. My parents supported a family of five on a very fixed and limited income. Neither one of them graduated high school and both worked very laborious jobs. My father (born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras) speaks mainly Spanish and worked most of his life as a machine operator at HEB Bakery. My mother took on many jobs ranging from a department store cashier to a housekeeper. My parents understood that the key to opening the door of opportunity and a better life is a quality education. They stressed to me the importance of an education at a very young age. Their dream was that one day their children would lead a life in which they did not live paycheck to paycheck, or struggle to support their family. They succeeded. Their daughters are highly respected registered nurses and I am a faculty member in the chemistry department at UTSA.
My interest in science came at a very young age. I constantly asked my parents questions that with their very limited education often puzzled them. Questions such as “Why can birds fly?” or “Why does water turn in to ice when cold?” The answer was usually followed with “I don’t know mi hijo (my son in Spanish), ask your teacher in school tomorrow.” I usually did this, and explained the answer to my parents when I got home. They were just as excited as I was to know the answer. As a child, I assumed they were just humoring their son to encourage his curiosity and eagerness to go to school. As an adult, I now realize that their excitement was genuine. They looked at this as an opportunity to learn and acquire knowledge. To them it was a second-hand education.
As I got older and continued with my studies, my questions became more and more advanced. It was in high school that my parents noticed that my curiosity progressed from asking questions to designing experiments to answer questions. This progression was stimulated by my high school chemistry teacher Mr. Vinay Dulip. It was in his AP chemistry class that I had my first taste of being a scientist. He encouraged me to think beyond what is known in science and motivated me to go beyond the textbook and gain hands on experience to intellectually solve problems. He also inspired me to become a teacher so that I too can help students obtain their maximum intellectual potential.
I received my B.S. in biology from The University of Texas Pan American in May of 2007. During my undergraduate career, I conducted research in an organic chemistry lab under the mentorship of Dr. Bimal K. Banik. My research focused on the synthesis of β-lactams to be used as novel anticancer agents. It was this research experience that stimulated my interests in organic chemistry. For this reason, I decided to pursue my doctorate in chemistry. I was accepted into the chemistry doctoral program at UT-Southwestern (UTSW) Medical Center and joined the lab of Dr. Doug Frantz. I completed most of my graduate coursework at UTSW. In summer of 2009, my PI, Dr. Doug Frantz, accepted a faculty position at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). I decided to follow Dr. Frantz to continue my research with him at UTSA.
I received my doctorate degree in chemistry from UTSA in 2013. My thesis was on the synthesis of small molecules to induce stem cell differentiation. Although trained as an organic chemist I consider myself a medicinal chemist. My research interests have always been at the interface of chemistry and biology.
I have served as a lecturer in the department of chemistry at UTSA since August of 2013. Since this time, I have been the Organic Chemistry I laboratory (CHE 2612) coordinator and taught Organic Chemistry I (CHE 2603) and Organic Chemistry II (CHE 3643) lectures. I have also developed two courses from scratch (Chemical Writing and Advanced Topics in Organic Chemistry). As a full-time appointment, I am required to teach a 4 by 4 course load. However, many times I have taught a 5x5 course load due to faculty shortage in our department. The class sizes for organic chemistry courses range anywhere from 50 to 167 students in each class. The students enrolled in these courses are of various majors (e.g. chemistry, biochemistry, biology, biomedical engineering, etc.) with the majority of students being pre-health profession (pre-med, pre-dent, pre-pharm). I enjoy teaching these students because even though I am an organic chemist, I passionately share their interest in the biological sciences. With a B.S. in biology, Ph.D. in chemistry, and extensive research experience in medicinal chemistry, I am able to bring a unique perspective to the classroom that can engage students in organic chemistry and relay its importance to their specific field of study.
I have had many teachers throughout my life and I have come to realize that I am a product of their insightful lessons and unremitting encouragement. I hope to continue their legacy of helping students realize their maximum potential. The greatest currency a person will have in life is the impact they will have on others. In this respect, I hope to be as wealthy as the teachers who have greatly impacted my life. My teaching philosophy can be summarized as follows: “The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward.