School of Engineering and Applied Sciences celebrates the Class of 2021

Graduating students give the UB "horns up" sign.

By Nicole Capozziello

Published June 4, 2021

On a beautiful sunny weekend in May, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences celebrated its over 2,000 graduates at two in-person commencement ceremonies at the University at Buffalo Stadium.

“I’m grateful for the many people across our school who, over many months, worked to make this year a success in the face of so much uncertainty.”
Christine Human, associate dean for accreditation and student affairs
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

The graduate ceremony was held on Friday, May 14 at 1 p.m., while the undergraduate ceremony took place on Saturday, May 15 at 2 p.m. Both ceremonies were also live streamed for students, family and friends unable to join in person.

After last year’s historic campus-wide, all-virtual commencement, UB sought to return to in-person commencement this year, but with some changes, the largest being that all 17 UB ceremonies were held outdoors.

“While coordinating commencement is always a massive undertaking, 2021 posed new challenges,” said Christine Human, associate dean for accreditation and student affairs. “I’m grateful for the many people across our school who, over many months, worked to make this year a success in the face of so much uncertainty.” 

The school celebrated graduates from across its nine departments as well as numerous degree programs. Among these was the first cohort graduating from the Master of Professional Studies in Data Sciences and Applications program. In addition, 65 candidates received their PhDs.

Kemper Lewis, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, told the graduates, “While your work for your degree may be finished, your success and your impact are only going to expand. So go bring great value to this world.” 

Jordan Walbesser (BS ‘07, JD ’09), president of the UB Engineering and Applied Sciences Alumni Association, welcomed the graduates into the engineering and applied sciences alumni family.

Members of the SEAS community, including faculty, staff and alumni, also shared recorded video messages of congratulations with the graduates.

Both ceremonies also included a slideshow of over 350 images capturing memories from students’ time on campus. Highlights are as follows.

Highlights from the Graduate Ceremony

The celebration for graduate students featured an address by three-time electrical engineering alumnus John Schneider (BS’80, MS’87, PhD’90), winner of this year’s Dean’s Achievement Award.

Reflecting on his long career, Schneider told the graduates, “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will. I was a young engineer with an idea for a better fingerprint scanner. In developing it, I had to tell the FBI that what they had been doing for decades was antiquated and all wrong. I thought I had no chance of winning this argument. Thirty years and 250 patents later, over 100 million of my fingerprint sensors have been placed onto smartphones and the FBI has certified this technology.” 

He advised graduates to “think big and be kind,” emphasizing the importance of recognizing all the people who had helped them get to this point, and using this gift to contribute to the world. “Trust in yourself. The world is counting on you. I am counting on you. Your village is counting on you. Believe it and believe in yourself,” said Schneider, the Vice President of Technology for the multinational semiconductor and telecommunications company Qualcomm. 

This year’s graduate student speaker was Barnard Uche Onyenucheya, a PhD student in electrical engineering who hails from the Bronx, N.Y.

Onyenucheya said “as an African kid from the Bronx where an accomplishment was obtaining a high school degree – talk much less of a PhD,” much had seemed impossible. However, after working with Dr. Jennifer Zirnheld in the Energy Systems Integration Lab he began to drop that “im” and focus instead on what was possible, and how to meet his goals. To his classmates he said, “We are engineers. We turn impossible dreams and vivid imaginations into attainable, tangible realities. We have made the seemingly IMPOSSIBLE...POSSIBLE.”

Graduate Commencement

Photos: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Published May 24, 2021

Highlights from the Undergraduate Ceremony

The undergraduate ceremony on Saturday, May 15, featured Amy Faville as the student speaker and recognized Jacqueline Hannan as the winner of the SUNY Chancellors Award for Student Excellence. A biomedical engineering major from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Hannan was chosen for the award based on her contributions to research, mentorship and the community, including serving as the two-year President of the Honors Student Council.

Faville, a mechanical engineering major from Avon, N.Y., said, “I am here to speak about what [Angela Duckworth] called grit...She defines grit as tenacious perseverance, passion, and stamina over a prolonged period of time,” said Faville. “You want an example of grit? It is each and every one of you, class of 2021, having stared down personal matters, mental health, stereotypes, or the COVID-19 pandemic in the face and saying I am an engineer, I am a computer scientist and this is a problem I have the ability to solve. It is that grit that is the reason you are sitting here today.”

Winner of this year’s University at Buffalo President’s Medal alumnus Dexter Johnson (PhD’95) also spoke, drawing on how his years at UB prepared him for his career at NASA, where he is currently a Technical Fellow for Loads and Dynamics.

The ceremony concluded with a five-minute video montage highlighting news and pop culture from the past four years, created by the College of Arts and Sciences in conjunction with the Center for the Arts, and pyrotechnics.

Undergraduate Commencement

Published May 25, 2021

Class of 2021 T-shirt competition

Prior to the event, graduating students were invited to get creative and take part in a school-sponsored t-shirt design contest. Himani Dodeja, a computer science major, won first place for her design, while Ming Chen, a civil engineering major, got second, and Katelyn Chang, a chemical engineering major got third. The winning design was printed onto shirts that were available for purchase by the class.