Sixth Annual SEAS Awards Night honors alumni, corporate partners and students

Milind and Raj Ajinkya recognized with Delta Award

Milind and Raj Ajinkya, Delta Award, with Rajan Batta.

Delta award recipients Milind and Raj Ajinkya with SEAS interim dean Rajan Batta at the SEAS annual awards night celebration.

by Nicole Capozziello

Published October 30, 2019

On Thursday, October 3, 2019, over 100 members of the UB community gathered in Slee Hall to honor exceptional alumni, students and corporate partners at the Sixth Annual School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Awards Night.

“Milind and Raj Ajinkya have become true partners in our mission to conduct high impact original research in science and engineering and produce graduates capable of leading and innovating across a spectrum of engineering disciplines.”
Rajan Batta, interim dean
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Rajan Batta, interim dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), led the presentation, which included five awards to members of the school’s community, as well as 10 student scholarships awarded on behalf of the UB Engineering and Applied Sciences Alumni Association (UBEAA).

Joining Batta in the presentation of awards was UBEAA board member Stephen Cross and SEAS director of constituent and alumni engagement Bethany Mazur, who also coordinated the event.

“Listening to everyone tonight, I can’t help but hear and notice how many of our awardees and our students talk about the impact that philanthropy has on our school,” said Mazur. “Thank you to everyone here and especially to our donors, who allow us to do things like give scholarships to deserving students, to reach underserved populations, and to be the kind of university that is wonderful but still accessible.”

Meet the award recipients

Delta Award: Milind and Raj Ajinkya

Inspired by the engineering term meaning “the difference,” this award is given annually to donors who have made a significant difference for the school, our students, and our culture through their generous philanthropy.

Milind and Raj Ajinkya with CBE faculty Mark Swihart and Steliios Andreadis.

Delta Award recipients Milind and Raj Ajinkya (center) with chemical and biological engineering faculty Mark Swihart (far left) and Stelios Andreadis (far right). The Ajinkya's created the Amol Ajinkya Memorial Fund in honor of their son, which provides fellowships to graduate students and funds a lecture series that brings renowned experts in chemical engineering from across the U.S. to UB.

Alumnus Milind Ajinkya (PhD ’75, MS ’72) and his wife Raj have been dedicated members of the SEAS community, demonstrated through generous financial support and service, for over 10 years. Their Amol Ajinkya Memorial Fund, created in honor of their son, provides fellowships to outstanding graduate students and funds a lecture series, benefitting all of SEAS. Each fall, the lecture series brings to UB renowned experts on pressing topics in chemical and biological engineering from across the United States.

“Milind and Raj have become true partners in our mission to conduct high impact original research in science and engineering and produce graduates capable of leading and innovating across a spectrum of engineering disciplines,” said Batta.

During his time at UB, Ajinkya studied under W. Harmon Ray, and worked with Sol Weller and Bill Gill. After earning his PhD in Chemical and Biological Engineering in 1975, he went on to a 35-year career in the reaction engineering field, working at Shell and Exxon. Ajinkya also serves on the CBE Advisory Board.

“It’s great to see the younger generation here tonight,” said Ajinkya, who expressed his appreciation for the pivotal role UB has played in his life when he attended nearly 50 years ago. “I really hope that this fund can support undergraduate and graduate students and make a difference.”

Volunteer Recognition Award: Kurt Bessel

Awarded to an alumnus or alumna who has dedicated considerable personal time and resources for the benefit of our students, school, and UB community.

Volunteer Recognition Award recipient Kurt Bessel.

Volunteer Recognition Award recipient Kurt Bessel (MS ’09, BS ’08, BA ’08), former president of the UB Engineering Alumni Association (UBEAA), with fellow UBEAA members. From left are Timothy van Oss, Jordan Walbesser, Kurt Bessel, Stephen Cross and Dan Muffaletto.

Since graduating from SEAS over a decade ago, Kurt Bessel (MS ’09, BS ’08, BA ’08) has selflessly given his time and talents back to the school. A president of UBEAA for four years, Bessel still serves as an active member of the organization. As a founding member of the UBEEA wellness and mentoring committee, Bessel has been crucial in increasing opportunities for alumni-student connection. He has played the important role of conceiving of and taking part in activities and events centered on holistic student wellness and support, which have been both popular and invaluable.

Batta read a quote from former Dean of SEAS Liesl Folks, who said, “I want to thank Kurt for his energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to ensuring the next generation has excellent experiences. I have deep appreciation and gratitude for all that Kurt has done.”

At the ceremony, Bessel expressed his indebtedness to people around the university that have supported him and the community over the years. “We’ve accomplished some great things with UBEAA over the last few years but vision and passion don’t carry the day,” he said. “Thank you to Dr. Christine Human –nothing works without you and your university-side support. Thank you also to Bethany Mazur, who wears a lot of hats and even this event, we have Bethany to thank for.”

After six years as a research engineer at Bitzer Scroll, Bessel started his own Intellectual Property consulting agency, based in Syracuse, in 2017. In this work, he facilitates innovation by providing a cost-effective bridge between inventors and the patent counsel.

“I’m very proud to be a UB engineer,” said Bessel at the end of his speech. “But before I was a prospective engineering student, I was a prospective student athlete.” He concluded by acknowledging former UB men’s swimming and diving coach Budd Termin for his critical initial belief in his abilities and his unwavering support.

Outstanding Young Alumnus Award: Tom Occhino

Awarded to a young alumnus or alumna in recognition of outstanding contributions to their career field, academic area, and/or community.

Tom Occhino shows off his Outstanding Young Alumnus award.

Tom Occhino (BS ’07 Computer Engineering) celebrates his Outstanding Young Alumnus award with interim SEAS dean Rajan Batta. Occhino is an engineering director at Facebook.

Tom Occhino graduated from SEAS with a BS in Computer Engineering in 2007. In 2009, he became a software engineer at Facebook, where he is currently an engineering director. Through his hard work and success, Occhino has remained committed to SEAS, serving on the SEAS Young Alumni Advisory Board and an active participant in UB’s Bay Area Network.

“I look back on my time at UB really fondly –and it’s not just the classes or the coursework. It’s the other things I did on campus too; through my involvement in the UB Student Association, I made some of my first websites,” says Occhino.

Over his decade at Facebook, Occhino has seen immense growth and changes. “Our motto was ‘move fast and break things.’ But as we grew up, we learned it’s better to break fewer things,” joked Occhino. “We actually changed our motto to ‘move fast and be bold.’”

To the next generation, Occhino spoke of the lessons he’s learned at UB and beyond around taking risks and making bold decisions. He said, “Start by asking yourself not what you want to be, but what problems do you want to solve?”

Mentor of the Year: Aaron Krolikowski

Awarded annually to an alumnus or alumna who has dedicated considerable personal time and resources for the benefit of our students’ development and education.

Aaron Krolikowski shows off the Mentor of the Year award.

Aaron Krolikowski (center, holding award) shows off the Mentor of the Year award with friends, family and mentees.

“Although not an engineer himself, Aaron has unknowingly adhered to the Order of the Engineer.  ‘When needed, my skill and knowledge shall be given without reservation for the public good,’” said Batta. “We appreciate and recognize all that Aaron has done for our public good and our UB students.”

Krolikowski earned his BS and BA from UB in 2009 and his PhD in Geography and Environment from Oxford in 2014. He is the former Director of Research and Public Policy at United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and is now an independent research consultant, working with nonprofits in data visualization, impact measurement, program design, and policy analysis to bring about a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable world.

Since moving back to Western New York seven years ago, Krolikowski has given extensively of his time and energy to UB, teaching classes in multiple departments and mentoring students in SEAS, the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships Spark program, and the Honors College.

“Not only is he one of the most diligent people I know, but he’s one of the most kind and generous people I know. To see the impact Aaron’s had on the community, one needs to look no farther than the many UB students to whom he’s given time and mentorship,” said Sean Kaczmarek, a mentee of Aaron.

Krolikowski reflected on his years as a mentor at UB saying, “Students often look to me for guidance as they try to start applying their skills to social and environmental problems, but more importantly, they teach me every single step of the way. We have learned together, we have built things together, and sometimes we even go into business together. I can’t express enough how much of an impact my mentees, and my own mentors, have had on my life.”

 “Not only do students give us hope for the future –that it will be a better place –but also they don’t hesitate when asked to help. Students from SEAS have worked alongside local communities to bring about neighborhood tree planting, while others are currently supporting the future of open and inclusive government here in the city of Buffalo, while even more are working to bring water to millions and create climate-adaptable societies.”

Clayton Markham, a senior environmental engineering major and one of Krolikowski’s many appreciative mentees, said during his introduction, “I’m sure that I can speak for all of Aaron’s mentees when I say that I am so fortunate that he put himself in the position to cross paths with me and so honored to count him among my friends. I hope someday to be a mentor to UB students like Aaron was a mentor to me.”

Corporate Partner of the Year: ACV Auctions

Awarded to a corporation that has invested significant time and resources toward the advancement of our school and our students.

ACV Auctions was named Corporate Partner of the Year.

ACV Auctions was named SEAS Corporate Partner of the Year. From left (all from ACV Auctions unless noted) are Phil Schneider (PhD ’18 EE), SEAS interim dean Rajan Batta, Dan Magnuszewski (BS ’05 CS), Wes Csendom (BS ’17 CS), Dennis Fedorishin (BS ’20 CEN) and Michael Pokora.

Since its founding in 2015, Buffalo start-up ACV Auctions has employed innovative technology and values-driven customer service to revolutionize the used car auction market. In just a few short years, the company has expanded into every state and is now valued at over $600 million. The winner of a $1 million 43North grant, ACV has helped to grow opportunities locally, currently employing over 300 people in Buffalo, including many SEAS graduates.

ACV has always valued sharing its prosperity with SEAS. They provide financial support to student clubs, sponsor UB Hack-a-thon events, and support the UB Scientista Fund, which empowers underrepresented groups in engineering. Additionally, members of ACV’s executive team have prioritized staying involved at SEAS and the School of Management, where they serve in advisory capacities. Most importantly, ACV has created a bridge for learning and opportunity for SEAS students, offering real-world experience via internships and careers.

Accepting the award were Dan Magnuszewski, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, and Phil Schneider, a research engineer manager, both graduates of SEAS.

“All along the way in my own career, it’s been important to me to figure out ways that the university and industry could play together better and be more integrative,” said Magnuszewski. "ACV’s involvement has been a win-win situation. For ACV, we get to come in contact with so many talented students. For students, they’re getting the challenge of working on real-world projects.”

“Our motto so far has been to ‘just say yes to everything’ because we really want to help take UB to the next level. The more we can do make that makes UB better and more attractive to more of the top-tier students, the more we all benefit.”

Schneider, who graduated from SEAS in 2016, reflected on the opportunities ACV has provided him with, from getting patents to putting products out into the world. However, this award had a special place for him. “Impacting students and transcending to make a larger difference – that’s very important to me so I’m really appreciative of this.”

UB Engineering and Applied Sciences Alumni Association Scholarships

The UB Engineering and Applied Sciences Alumni Association awards scholarships to engineering students who demonstrate leadership skills through involvement in campus and community activities as well as scholastic accomplishment. Established in 1992, the awards are funded through generous donations from the school’s alumni and friends.

Professor Howard Strauss Memorial Scholarship: Anton Buynovskiy

Howard Strauss scholarship winner Anton Buynovskiy.

Howard Strauss scholarship winner Anton Buynovskiy, a senior majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering and mathematics, with Stephen Cross, UBEAA board member and scholarship committee chair.

Anton Buynovskiy, a senior majoring in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Mathematics, has a demonstrated history of making meaningful contributions on campus and in the greater community. He currently serves as the President of the UB chapter of oSTEM, a national organization dedicated to bringing together and supporting LGBTQ people in STEM disciplines. He also volunteers his time with local high school students, serves as a testing lead in the Nanosatellite Laboratory, and works as an assistant in the Combustion Energy Transport Lab.

His demonstrated dedication and hard work at UB have led to several internships at Raytheon, in Tuscon, AZ and Los Angeles, and in 2020, he will be an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Anton’s positive attitude and initiative to work with his peers to improve UB and the school of engineering for future students set him apart,” said Stephen Cross, UBEAA board member and scholarship committee chair. “He has a consistent record of involvement and leadership in his academic, UB student organizations and Buffalo communities and is a passionate advocate and example for the university.”

“It can take just one opportunity, one experience, one conversation to change someone’s life for the better and I want to improve as many lives as possible,” said Buynovskiy. “Receiving this scholarship is an incredible honor for me and all of my fellow student awardees because it allows us to reflect on our accomplishments during our time at UB and to appreciate how others have benefited from our hard work.”

Leaders in Excellence Scholarship Awards

This scholarship aims to recognize “leaders in excellence,” encouraging students to develop spirit and loyalty to the school both in themselves and their fellow future alumni.

Leaders in Excellence scholarship winners.

Leaders in Excellence scholarship winners (from left): UBEAA member Dan Muffaletto, Jeremy R Chapman, Esther Jose, Jonathan Bessette, Marsha Maredia, SEAS interim dean Rajan Batta, UBEAA member Stephen Cross, Anton Buynovskiy, Valerie Bevan, Faeze Ghofrani, Wakil Pranto, and UBEAA president Jordan Walbesser. Not shown are Urjitha Muthiah and Oscar Lee.

Established in 1992, these awards are funded through generous donations from the school’s alumni and friends, and recognize outstanding students for their campus and community involvement as well as scholarship.

“This year we had over 60 very qualified applicants from the engineering school. The committee, which included myself, Dan Muffoletto, and Sabrina Casucci, were exceptionally impressed with the caliber of students and their leadership contributions to UB and community groups. We believe that these students have done an excellent job of serving their peers, the Buffalo community, and elevated the reputation of UB Engineering. We have high expectations for their continued accomplishments and growth as UB alum,” said Cross.

The recipients are:

  • Faeze Ghofrani, PhD, Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, 2020
  • Jonathan Bessette, BS, Mechanical Engineering, 2020
  • Wakil Pranto, BS, Civil Engineering, 2020
  • Jeremy R Chapman, BS, Aerospace Engineering. 2020
  • Urjitha Muthiah, BS, Computer Science, 2021
  • Esther Jose, BS, Industrial Engineering, 2020
  • Valerie Bevan, BS, Environmental Engineering, 2021
  • Oscar Lee, BS, Chemical Engineering, 2021
  • Marsha Maredia, BS, Biomedical Engineering, 2020