Although they both grew up in Ahmedabad, India, Gaurav Garg, BS ’88, BS ’88, MS ’90, and Komal Shah met in California. “We had to travel thousands and thousands of miles in order to find one another,” explains Komal lightheartedly. Now longtime residents of the San Francisco Bay Area, the couple has been married for 22 years and has a son, Bijoy, a Class of 2024 student in the McKelvey School of Engineering, and a daughter, Ellie.
Today, they also are among Washington University’s most active volunteer leaders. A tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist and founding partner of Wing Venture Capital, Gaurav has served on Washington University’s Board of Trustees since 2018 and the McKelvey Engineering National Council since 2015. The university and engineering school both have recognized him with Distinguished Alumni Awards.
Earlier this year, Komal joined the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts National Council and the Kemper Art Museum’s collections committee. A former engineer and tech industry executive, she is an avid collector of contemporary art by women and artists of color, and serves as a trustee for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among her other roles in museum philanthropy.
What’s unique about a WashU education?
Gaurav: WashU offers a broad-based education, which is a significant reason why I chose to attend the university. All the knowledge and skills I gained as a double major in electrical engineering and computer science have served me well throughout my career. It’s like oxygen though: I don’t think about it. What I learned in my economics, philosophy and other classes prepared me to connect the dots and think in a larger context. As a venture capitalist, I am continuously encountering new ideas and framing those ideas in terms of what is going on and changing in the world. This way of thinking is foundational at WashU and sets it apart from other schools.
Komal: Being able to study across disciplines attracted our son, Bijoy, to the university, too. He is a sophomore pursuing a systems science and engineering degree in McKelvey. The program develops students’ aptitude in math and helps them apply it through a second major in another area. Bijoy is still figuring out exactly where his interests lie. Some schools can be rigid, but WashU is flexible about students deciding on and changing their majors. The university enables a journey of discovery that helps students become mature, driven and accomplished human beings.
What inspires your volunteer leadership?
Gaurav: My affinity for WashU and desire to give back prompted me to get involved about 10 years ago. Serving on the McKelvey Engineering National Council and the Board of Trustees is intellectually stimulating. I enjoy conversations with members of the leadership team and getting to see how the university works.
Faculty throughout WashU are doing truly amazing research, and hearing about it helps keep me involved and constantly learning. In my own work, the intersection of biology and technology is an area of intense interest, which is partly driven by what I’ve learned about the research at the medical and engineering schools. Marrying these disciplines through efforts like bioinformatics is going to transform medicine and health care in the next couple of decades. I’ve been connecting WashU faculty with leaders I know in industry, and that cross-pollination has been a lot of fun to initiate.
Komal: Chancellor Andrew Martin is another important motivation for our support and enthusiasm for WashU, as was Chancellor Emeritus Mark Wrighton. Both are fantastic leaders who truly get to know members of the university community and who help cultivate positive energy and momentum on campus and beyond. It’s been wonderful to witness that here in the Bay Area.
How would you describe the WashU community?
Komal: Like Gaurav, my relationship with the university has evolved over time. I’ve graduated from being the wife of an alumnus to a trustee’s spouse to the mother of a student. From a parent perspective, WashU is a special place where our son will learn, grow and become a contributing member of society. When the Sam Fox School invited me to join the national council and the Kemper’s collections committee, my instant reaction was, “Yes, I’m happy to support these efforts.” The university community always has been so welcoming, and WashU really feels like family now.
What inspires your philanthropic support?
Gaurav: Scholarships have been a great way to give back, and it has been fulfilling to meet and get to know students who have received our support. I recently connected one with an internship at a small biotech company in the Bay Area, and last summer we got together for lunch. I enjoyed hearing about how this student was able to play a role in the company’s mission.
Providing funding for faculty research also has been important to us. Brilliant professors are the heart of the university, and WashU’s engineering faculty are pursuing and refining mind-bending ideas and technologies. It’s thrilling to support this work.
Overall, we know that WashU is making a difference in our world through education, discovery and scholarship. It’s an honor for Komal and me to help advance new knowledge and new generations of leaders.