Congratulations to the Class of 2017!

Record size of graduating class results in two commencement ceremonies

Published June 14, 2017

By Emily Sugarman

The 2016-2017 academic year holds the record for the largest number of graduating students at UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in history, a testament to the school’s increasingly renowned international reputation. For the first time, the undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies were split into two events.

“Challenge yourself. Never stop questioning. Dare to be different. Think out of the box. Apply your common sense with a touch of madness, knowing you have a solid intellectual foundation to do so.”
Sissy Nikolaou, PhD ’98 Civil Engineering
Graduate Commencement Speaker

Both ceremonies provided some great memories for this year's graduating class. Liesl Folks, Dean of SEAS, addressed the students at both ceremonies. She encouraged them to use their unique analytical and creative skills for the better.

“DO stand up for the underrepresented. DO work to understand the role of bias and privilege in the world, and DO work to improve circumstances for those around you,” Folks said. “DO notice where we have negative impacts on the planet, and work to reverse them. DO provide solutions for broken systems and processes.”

Undergraduate ceremony

The undergraduate ceremony, officiated by Folks and University President Satish K. Tripathi, honored 684 students who participated in the ceremony out of a total of 945 who graduated. A. Scott Weber, Vice President for Student Life, presented the opening and closing declarations.

The undergraduate student speaker was Ronita Bose (BS Electrical Engineering), an international student from Kolkata, India. During her time at UB, she served as a student leader for freshman engineering courses, a tutor for residential education, and a student assistant in the SEAS Office of Undergraduate Education. She has participated in a variety of projects and internships ranging from electric vehicles to urban transportation systems. During her speech, she assured her fellow graduates they can move forward with confidence.

“Our diligence, perseverance and hard work have paved the way for the next phase of our lives,” Bose said. "Within a few weeks, we all will embark on a new journey. Some of us will join the work force while others will pursue higher degrees—all with the purpose of learning more, and broadening our horizons.”

Ann Wegrzyn (BS ’85 Industrial Engineering, MBA ’91) was given the Dean’s Award for Achievement. Wegrzyn was honored for her passionate commitment to UB through dedicated volunteerism and her exceptional service as Chief Information Officer at National Fuel Gas Company. As she addressed the graduates, she urged them to “remember those challenges that you faced have built your strength and resiliency for the future” and to stay connected to UB.

“We all have a part to play in furthering the University’s national and international reputation. As you proceed into your life after graduation, remember that you represent this school—be a true UB supporter and stay involved as an alumnus,” Wegrzyn said.

The SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Student Excellence celebrated three extraordinary students, Jacob Caldwell, Hailie Suk, and Meghan Capeling, who were recognized for their integration of academic excellence with accomplishments in a variety of other areas such as leadership, community service, and campus involvement. 

Caldwell (BS Biomedical Engineering, Spanish minor), an Honors College scholar, served as a resident advisor, an orientation leader, a teaching assistant for UB’s first year engineering seminar, and as president of the Resident Hall Association. He contributed to the development of sensors to be used in biofilm research in UB’s Orthopaedic Research Laboratory. 

Suk (BS Environmental Engineering), who is passionate about alternative energy, served as president of the UB chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World. She was selected by the National Science Foundation for a Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and presented her work at the 2016 Great Lakes Beach Association Conference. 

Capeling (BS Chemical Engineering), an Honors College scholar, served as president of UB’s chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and organized an after school program for Buffalo public school students. She also received a Grace W. Capen Academic Award in recognition of an engineering project she co-presented at UB’s Undergraduate Award for Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creativity and for her academic achievement.

Graduate ceremony

The graduate ceremony, officiated by Folks and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles Zukoski, honored 425 students (57 PhD) who participated in the ceremony out of the 708 (76 PhD) that graduated. Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development and SUNY Distinguished Professor, conducted the opening and closing declarations.

Vasikan Vijayashanthar (MS Engineering Science, Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering) was the graduate student speaker. During his time at UB, he developed artificial neural network models to forecast the water quality of urban waterways. He is passionate about building sustainable and safe communities and has accepted a position as a civil engineer at Matt MacDonald, a global multidisciplinary consulting firm. In his speech, he motivated his fellow graduates to take responsibility for their own opportunities.

“Now more than ever, the passion and drive we have need to be utilized to their fullest potential, and in order to do so we need to have a strategy,” Vijayashanthar said. “Make a plan of how you want to address a project or problem, seek information and guidance from mentors and colleagues, and have a clear goal in mind that you will not give up on.”

Sissy Nikolaou (PhD ’98 Civil Engineering) was the distinguished alumna speaker. She is a principal of WSP USA with over 20 years of civil engineering experience, overseeing the organization’s geotechnical engineering practice. She serves as president of the NY-Northeast EERI Chapter, was named WSP Technical Fellow of Earthquake Engineering, and was awarded the prestigious Prakash Prize for Excellence in Earthquake Engineering, among numerous other awards and honors. She left the graduates with valuable guidance as they leave the UB environment.

“You will certainly be out of your comfort zone. My advice to you: Stay there. Challenge yourself. Never stop questioning. Dare to be different. Think out of the box. Apply your common sense with a touch of madness, knowing you have a solid intellectual foundation to do so,” Nikolaou said.

George Sklivanitis (PhD Electrical Engineering) received the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence for his academic merit and multifaceted success at UB. He has co-authored more than 20 research articles. Sklivanitis won the Nutaq Software-Defined Radio Academic U.S. National Contest, the Best Demo Awards at the 10th ACM International Conference on Underwater Networks and Systems, the UB Graduate Student Excellence in Teaching Award, and a Student Entrepreneur Fellowship from UB. 

Kurt Bessel, president of the SEAS Alumni Association, congratulated the graduates as new UB alumni: “Today, the first chapter of your UB story concludes, and the next—indeed a longer and yet richer one—begins. Know that you are in talented company, and that you are now part of a legacy on an upward trajectory.”

Congratulations, Class of 2017!

The graduates of SEAS have are applauded for working through the substantial, demanding process it took to earn their degrees. Each has impacted UB’s SEAS community in his or her own remarkable way and will carry precious memories of their time here wherever they go. Congratulations and best wishes to each and every one of them!