The February night that UT Arlington's new College Park Center opened, with on-court fireworks and fancy electronic graphics and college guys in the stands taking cellphone video of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, James Spaniolo's familiar giant grin stretched wide enough to engulf the place.Finally turning the dream of a campus arena into reality after decades of hope and frustration was a signature accomplishment for UTA's president, and he clearly was enjoying the opportunity to be chief of the cheering squad in that packed house.Spaniolo has filled the role of UTA's best promoter admirably since starting the top job in February 2004. The evidence of his efforts is tangible.The $78 million center, which hosts men's and women's basketball, volleyball, and public events from graduations and concerts to boxing matches and conferences, is adjacent to an $80 million development set to open in August with a welcome center, student housing, a parking garage and shops. That project has been a town-gown collaboration expected to pay dividends for the university as well as the community, further nourishing a partnership that has flourished during Spaniolo's tenure.Spaniolo is a lawyer who came to Texas with a background in newspapers, foundation work and a successful tenure improving the communications college at Michigan State University, his undergraduate alma mater. His previous lives prepared him well for the work he's accomplished at UTA.He has the easy-going demeanor of an amiable uncle. But he also has demonstrated a deliberate focus on setting clear goals and working to achieve them.Examples?Not long after Spaniolo arrived, a UT System report outlined where UTA was falling short in faculty research. The university has made a concerted effort to boost its research endeavors, work toward becoming a Tier One university and help secure state incentive funding for schools that raise certain levels of money on their own. UTA's research spending went from $21 million annually in 2004 to $66 million in 2011.The school also opened a new engineering research complex last year and a civil engineering lab building in 2008. It partnered with UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas on space for engineering professors to conduct biomedical research.Spaniolo set out to raise UTA's profile, along with building enrollment and increasing the numbers of students staying in school and graduating.The slogan introduced in 2006, "Be a Maverick," carries a telling double meaning: Be part of UTA -- but also blaze a trail.Enrollment is up to about 33,500, and the number of undergraduate degrees awarded has risen steadily, from 3,861 in 2007-08 to about 7,000 in 2011-12. The percentage of students who get their degree within four to six years also has continued to increase.Perhaps the first test of Spaniolo's tenure was a student move to reinstate football. He listened, had a cost study done, then, without foreclosing the future possibility of resurrecting the sport, concluded that the money and energies could be better devoted to other, more beneficial projects, including the special events center. It was the right decision.There's plenty of unfinished business for the next president, Spaniolo said in a telephone interview. He mentioned increasing gifts from alumni and other donors (the endowment stands at $82 million). Others are continuing to strengthen academics; updating aging facilities; and building further toward Tier One status.Spaniolo said he's proudest of "the recognition inside and outside the university that this is a truly outstanding university that serves many constituencies."Anyone who's watched the university over the past decade has seen the campus blossom, both as a welcoming place for students and other members of the campus community and as an anchor for improvements in central Arlington.Spaniolo has been upfront about wanting to transform UTA from a convenient fallback to a destination school. Of this "diamond in the rough," he said, "I think we're out of the rough."