Tools for Taking Risks

Brian Underwood and his wife, Carol Blacutt
Brian Underwood and his wife, Carol Blacutt

Brian Underwood has never been content with taking it easy. His entire adult life has been defined by an affinity for risk taking, including traveling to Bolivia three times to court his wife, Carol Blacutt. Not long after that adventure, Underwood went on another: moving to UC Davis to pursue his graduate work in materials engineering. An Indiana native, he knew little about UC Davis besides its reputation, but he and Blacutt decided it was worth the risk.

“Grad school teaches you how to solve problems,” Underwood said. “You are taught how to teach yourself.” This problem-solving initiative is the core of all Underwood’s pursuits, from marketing to computer science to almonds.

Looking to support the UC Davis spirit of risk-taking innovation, the couple funded the Blacutt-Underwood Distinguished Professorship, which was awarded to Dr. Subhash Risbud, Underwood’s friend and former advisor and the reason he took a risk on UC Davis. Underwood and Blacutt believe that this kind of support is necessary to foster the boundary-pushing work in materials engineering from students and faculty in the Risbud Research Group.

“When you donate to the university, you’re investing in the next generation of innovators, the next generation of entrepreneurs, the next generation of upward movement,” said Underwood, whose career led him through a number of Silicon Valley-style start-ups that helped explore the frontiers of video imaging and audio mechanics. “UC Davis allowed me to accomplish that.”