By Nicole Capozziello
Published November 13, 2021
Haryana Thomas and Peter Cruz, both graduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, received a new fellowship specifically designed to enhance the leadership and mentoring skills of underrepresented students in the school.
The Leadership Development Fellow program recognizes and supports underrepresented students with a $1500 stipend and provides them with research and mentorship opportunities.
Fellows engage in a research project with a faculty advisor and mentor an underrepresented freshman or sophomore student in the school. In addition, Fellows meet individually with Dean Kemper Lewis, with the aim to support their development as researchers, mentors and leaders.
“I am thrilled to be able to engage in our leadership development curriculum with Haryana and Peter,” says Lewis. “Both individuals have already demonstrated their capacity for leadership in their scholarship and service initiatives. I am excited to see the impact they will make not only here at UB but nationally and globally as thought leaders.”
Part of the school’s commitment to growing and supporting diversity in STEM, the program is open to all underrepresented students in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Haryana Thomas came to the University at Buffalo in January of 2021 to earn his PhD in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. He is part of the Ashlee N. Ford Versypt research group, where his research focuses on developing models to predict the progression of diabetic kidney damage, which is the leading cause of death in patients with diabetes, and improving our understanding of the disease.
During his undergraduate years at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Thomas was inspired to become involved as a tutor and mentor. “At a conference I was at, one of the presenters said to stop dreaming about changing the world and start being an active force of change in your community,” says Thomas. “So, I decided to seek out opportunities in my community and found out about New City Kids.” The organization provides afterschool help to underserved students in the inner-city. “I volunteered there where in addition to tutoring, I encouraged kids to attend college, shared available resources to get into college and in general acted as a role model.”
As a part of the Leadership Development program, Thomas is especially looking forward to connecting with undergraduate students. “I’m really excited to share my experiences in order to help someone else be successful in their academic pursuit,” says Thomas. “As someone who’s already been through undergrad, there are things that I did that enabled me to successfully go through college and there are somethings that I wish I had done that could have made me more successful and I would like to share those with my mentees so that they can reach their maximum potential.”
Thomas is a member of the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers (NOBCCHE) and a former member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). He currently volunteers at PEER Servants, a microfinance organization that helps people in developing countries start businesses.
Peter Cruz, a master’s student in the Department of Civil, Environmental Structural Engineering, hails from New Rochelle, NY. After graduating from UB with a BS in Civil Engineering in 2017, Peter Cruz went to work as a structural engineering at Stantec. There, he carried out inspection, design, contract drawing development and report writing for various new buildings, rehabilitation and inspection projects.
In 2020, Cruz returned to UB, where his research focuses on the design of resilient structures, particularly those able to withstand earthquakes and fire. He is currently working on a project that uses thermal- mechanical numerical modeling to determine the impact of fire on bridge girders. Cruz’s advisor is Samuel P. Capen Professor and SUNY Distinguished Professor Michael C. Constantinou.
Cruz was drawn to the Leadership Development Program because it provided an opportunity to share his experience with others who might be stuck in a crossroad or provide them with resources that he wished he had known about as an undergraduate.
“When I see undergraduates, regardless of their background, but especially those who may appear a bit angsty with having the “perfect” college experience, I can’t help but see myself in them. So, the idea of being able to be in their corner and assist them by explaining that school is definitely manageable brings me great joy – it’s what I would have wanted,” he says.
He is also excited about having the opportunity to work with faculty and Dean Lewis.
“The mentorship and leadership qualities gained in this program will be indispensable irrespective of where I may land in life,” adds Cruz.
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