CSEE Alumna delivers Distinguished Alumna Speech at graduate student commencement

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Liesl Folks and CSEE alumna Sissy Nikolaou (PhD 1998), PE

By Peter Murphy

Published June 19, 2017

On Friday, May 19, UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) welcomed a Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering (CSEE) alumna as the keynote speaker for its graduate commencement ceremony.

“UB is a lot of things. It is a world-class institution and we have all been fortunate enough to be educated here. It is tough and demanding, but above all else, it is really kind. Its faculty, staff and students exhibit kindness as if it is a natural selection criterion we must all possess to be accepted into the school.”
Sissy Nikolaou, PE, CSEE alumna
WSP Technical Fellow, WSP

Sissy Nikolaou (PhD 1998), PE, delivered her Distinguished Alumna Speech to the entire SEAS graduate student graduating class. Her message encouraged students to preserve through failure and adversity, and highlighted the inclusive and accepting nature of the University, “UB is a lot of things. It is a world-class institution and we have all been fortunate enough to be educated here. It is tough and demanding,” she said, “but above all else, it is really kind. Its faculty, staff and students exhibit kindness as if it is a natural selection criterion we must all possess to be accepted into the school.”

She used an anecdote to describe the importance of perseverance, “When people try to put you down, you must press forward and reach out to that one person you can trust; to memories from this school,” she said, “this is what I did, and leaders of UB found the time to listen and support me. Doing this, made the biggest difference in the world…it reminded me that I was much more than my gender, my looks or my accent.”

Nikolaou is a member of the CSEE Advisory Board. She holds leadership board roles in the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute and the Applied Technology Council. In 2016, she was invited by former President Barack Obama to participate in the 2016 White House Earthquake Resilience Summit. There, Nikolaou met with several representatives of the National Security Council and the Federal Government after the president issued an executive order to establish a federal earthquake risk mitigation standard and early warning systems for the country.

Nikolaou earned both her MS (1995) and PhD (1998) in CSEE from UB, with an undergraduate diploma from the NTUA. She has been recognized with the Prakash Prize for Excellence in Earthquake Engineering, and the Fellow title from the American Society of Civil Engineers. She is currently a principal multi-hazards and geotechnical engineer in the New York office of WSP, an international engineering and design firm with more than 37,000 employees where she recently became a WSP Technical Fellow in the field of earthquake engineering.

Approximately 450 students attended the SEAS graduate student commencement last month, and approximately 130 students, family members and friends stayed for the CSEE commencement reception afterwards.

See more photos of the reception here.