Molly Dreyer is a master’s student in environmental and water resources engineering from Amherst, N.Y.
Sanu Tharayil Raju is a master’s student in Industrial Engineering/ Engineering Management from Pathanamthitta, India.
Dakota Handzlik is a senior in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering from Lakeview, N.Y.
Jonathan Bessette is a senior mechanical engineering student and Fulbright scholar from Johnson City, N.Y.
Shahmahmood Faizi is a graduate student in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.
by Nicole Capozziello
Published May 16, 2020
The tradition of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ commencement speaker competition continued this year but with a twist.
In the beginning, interested students submitted written speeches as usual. However, by the time the judges had selected finalists, the university had moved to a distance learning format. The seven finalists then had the opportunity to update their speech to address the current crisis. But it had to be on video.
After an enjoyable, albeit out-of-the ordinary, process, four students were chosen as this year’s winners. Dakota Handzlik and Shanelle Ileto, graduating seniors, and graduate students Molly Dreyer and Sanu Tharayil Raju, will deliver their messages of reflection and congratulations to the Class of 2020 today.
The students were selected from a group of 19, who submitted speeches as a part of the annual commencement speech competition.
“This year, judging was particularly tough because all seven finalists were worthy of a spot and told a compelling story,” says Christine Human, associate dean for accreditation and student affairs and commencement coordinator, who initiated the competition in 2015.
While the speeches were as varied as the school itself, all acknowledged the extra layer of uncertainty that their class faces. However, they encouraged their classmates to approach the future with hope and bravery.
“None of us expected our college careers to end on a note like this,“ said Marsha Maredia, a finalist and senior biomedical engineering student. “But the fact of the matter is that we have overcome, as a graduating class, all of the unprecedented obstacles in our path and we have emerged victorious… Like the last few months, we’ll continue to face adversity in our future but we have proven time and time again that we are resilient, we are resourceful and we are ready for whatever comes next.”
Students spoke of their own unique journey and celebrated the accomplishments of their peers. “I’ve seen what a lot of my fellow students have done over these past years,” said Kevin Wall, a finalist and senior electrical engineering major. “Making boats out of concrete, single wing airplanes, incredible apps and programs in 24 hours, go karts, snowmobiles, satellites, some incredible feats. But now is no time to stop . . . be the graduate that UB wants to bring back, or name a building after. Leave a legacy, we have incredible potential and the world at our disposal.”
And, looking to the future, students called on their classmates to use their engineering education to change the world, in ways great and small. “As UB graduates, we have a responsibility. A responsibility to no longer say ‘someone else will solve our problems.’ You, us, we all are the ones who must solve the grand challenges that our communities, our countries, and our world faces,” said Jonathan Bessette, a finalist and senior mechanical engineering student and 2017 Fulbright scholar.
Shanelle Ileto, a senior computer science and engineering student, spent time Pennsylvania, the Philippines and most recently Buffalo, before starting at UB. She has served as a teaching assistant for Computer Security and Computer Organization and the UB Network Defense Security Team Lead. She is also the Chair as the CSE department’s Undergraduate Student Advisory Board, an organization that acts as a bridge between faculty and students. Through this she has helped organize volunteer and outreach activities on campus and in the local community, including CS Ed Week Kid’s Day. She won a Leaders in Excellence Scholarship from the UB Engineering and Applied Science Alumni Association in 2018 and the Google Women Techmaker Scholarship for 2019-2020. Ileto plans to pursue a career path in the realm of networking, infrastructure, and cybersecurity. “I wanted to have the opportunity to thank my family during the ceremony. Though commencement has moved to an online platform, I am still glad I was able to say some words about the situation and other thoughts about graduation,” says Ileto.
Dakota Handzlik, who hails from Lakeview, N.Y., is a senior in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Handzlik also holds a BS in Business Administration from UB. On campus, He is a three-term president of UB Robotics as well as a teaching assistant for CSE 474/574, in which he helped develop new ethics-based machine learning curricula as part of the Mozilla Responsible Computer Science Challenge. He has contributed to multiple research papers in the areas of machine learning and robotics and was also recognized as a NASA Space Grant Consortium fellow for his work in machine learning. Following graduation, Handzlik will be pursuing PhD in Computer Science, with a concentration in Cognitive Science and Machine Learning, at SUNY Stony Brook.
Molly Dreyer, who hails from nearby Amherst, N.Y., is a master’s student in environmental and water resources engineering. She received her bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering in 2017. She took part in the Sustainability in Latin America study abroad course in Costa Rica last winter and on campus has been involved with Engineers for a Sustainable World, with which she helped implement a rainwater catch system at UB. In her recent project of creating a living shoreline on Lake LaSalle to mitigate erosion, she has collaborated with UB Sustainability, as well as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, UB Facilities and local Rotary clubs. In 2019, she earned UB Sustainability’s Sustainability Leadership, Innovation and Collaborative Engagement (SLICE) award. Off campus, she works with the SPCA as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. This summer, she will be participating in the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program, in which she will continue her research on coastal erosion. “Pursuing a degree in engineering can feel like non-stop work. Preparing my speech for this competition allowed me to take a breath and appreciate the bigger picture of where we have been and where we are going. I am so grateful for this opportunity to share my perspective with the class of 2020!”
Sanu Tharayil Raju, who is from Pathanamthitta, India, is a master’s student in Industrial Engineering/ Engineering Management. On campus, Raju has served a student assistant in Campus Living as well as volunteer in Career Services. His academic contributions include being a member of the Mark Diamond Research Fund Council, which reviews student grant applications. Following graduation, Raju hopes to gain work experience in the U.S. before heading back to India to start his own business. In regards to the competition, Raju enjoyed the process and suspense. “I never thought I would get a chance to convey my message to this many students. It’s exciting,” says Raju.
The virtual commencement ceremony will be available for viewing starting on Saturday, May 16, 2020 at 2:00 p.m. EDT. The link will be available on the SEAS Commencement webpage throughout the month of June. The website also features the traditional School of Engineering and Applied Sciences’ pre-commencement slideshow as well as a listing of all SEAS graduates.