Celebrating Costas Spanos: A decade of visionary leadership

Collage of five images: drone spraying crops, close-up of silicon wafers, portrait of Costas Spanos, skyscrapers in San Francisco, the U.S. Capitol Building.

The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society and the Banatao Institute (CITRIS) at the University of California (UC) gratefully acknowledge Director Costas J. Spanos for 10 years of trailblazing leadership to advance cutting-edge research that addresses societal challenges. 

Spanos, who holds the distinguished title of Andrew S. Grove Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley, has served as the institute’s fourth director since 2014, making his tenure the longest of any leader since CITRIS’s launch in 2001.

Under his guidance, CITRIS has thrived as a vibrant hub of interdisciplinary collaboration, engaging more than 400 researchers across the four CITRIS campuses at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz.  

Research initiatives and programs launched or expanded under Spanos’s direction include CITRIS Aviation, CITRIS People and Robots, CITRIS Policy Lab, the EDGE in Tech Initiative, and the CITRIS Workforce Innovation Program, which offers paid internships to undergraduate and graduate students across all CITRIS campuses. He also supported the growth of the CITRIS Foundry startup incubator and the CITRIS Invention Lab maker space, both pivotal in the UC community’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. 

To promote and sustain the CITRIS Seed Funding Program, the institute’s cornerstone platform to propel innovative, early-stage research projects, Spanos emphasized critical areas such as energy efficiency, digital health and ag tech, which led to increased philanthropic support. He also developed a broad research partnership program that engages corporations, public agencies and universities from around the world to support the institute.  

Spanos played an influential role in fostering new and revitalized avenues for public discourse hosted by CITRIS. These efforts resulted in the inception of the Silicon Valley Forum series, held at the UC Santa Cruz Silicon Valley campus and dedicated to exploring emerging tech trends at the intersection of academia and industry. Speakers included Jennifer Granholm (now the U.S. Secretary of Energy), founders of successful startup ventures, leaders in established tech companies and top scholars. 

He also steered the transformation of the CITRIS Research Exchange seminars into distinguished lectures on the status and future of artificial intelligence (AI), featuring leading experts in the field. 

To further collaboration across the UC Berkeley campus, Spanos enabled the integration of several new centers into CITRIS’s headquarters in Sutardja Dai Hall. These included the Kavli Center for Ethics, Science, and the Public, C3.ai Digital Transformation Institute (C3.ai DTI), Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS), and the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC).

“It has been a great pleasure to be Costas’s partner in advancing CITRIS’s agenda over the last 10 years,” said Executive Director Camille Crittenden. “He has been a generous mentor and facilitated an environment for a healthy exchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries.”

“Under Costas’s visionary leadership, CITRIS has exceeded its goals. He leaves behind a legacy that will continue to inspire and to guide CITRIS for many years to come,” said Kathy Yelick, vice chancellor for research at UC Berkeley. 

A farewell celebration in honor of Spanos was hosted in the Banatao Auditorium in Sutardja Dai Hall on Dec. 6, and featured congratulatory remarks by his esteemed colleagues. 

Collage of four photos: Costas Spanos in conversation with two smiling people; Spanos at podium speaking into microphone; Spanos smiling at bouquet of flowers; Spanos standing near staircase in leather jacket and glasses looking solemn.
Costas Spanos at Dec. 6, 2023, celebration in his honor.

The event concluded with the announcement of an endowment fund established in honor of Spanos’s remarkable contributions to CITRIS, initiated by the Banatao family, the founding benefactors of the institute. This generous donation will help CITRIS continue a culture of innovation to serve students, faculty, industry, government, and the broader University of California community.

Spanos will be succeeded by Alexandre M. Bayen, Liao-Cho Innovation Endowed Chair and professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences and of civil and environmental engineering at UC Berkeley, whose connection with CITRIS spans more than 15 years. 

To learn more about The Costas Spanos Endowment Fund at CITRIS, please contact Tamara Bock, director of development at CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, at tbock@berkeley.edu.