Liberal arts enthusiast perceives renewed sense of mission for UB
By Blair Boone
One of the first things Ashok Kaveeshwar, Ph.D. '69, liked about Buffalo was the weather.
For Kaveeshwar, winter skiing at Kissing Bridge Ski Area only a half hour south of the city was just as enjoyable as the area's sunny, temperate summers. And the weather was just one more positive in a well-rounded university experience that included a vibrant campus life, challenging academics, genuine camaraderie among his fellow physics graduate students and a wide array of community activities, from Buffalo Bills football games to orchestral performances at Kleinhans Music Hall.
Today Kaveeshwar sees many of those same positives at UB, plus a new air of excitement and possibility. "UB has grown over the years," he says. "I find the new campus very exciting. Whenever I visit, I see a certain excitement and energy that's quite refreshing."
As chair of the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's Council, and as a leader in The Campaign for
UB: Generation to Generation, Kaveeshwar is eager to communicate that enthusiasm to his fellow alumni of the College of Arts and Sciences. Of course, the college's alumni are a diverse group, ranging from graduates like Kaveeshwar, who earned a doctorate in physics, to history, psychology, English and music graduates.
Kaveeshwar acknowledges the challenge of reaching out to such a large and varied audience. "The challenge is twofold," he observes. "First, the group is highly diversified, including people from both the arts and sciences. Second, while we have a large number of alumni out there, we haven't always kept up with them, so we're trying to reconnect now."
But just as important, he also sees many unifying principles, especially the ideal of a humanities education—something he passionately supports.
"For me, the real meaning of the liberal arts at the undergraduate level is to have an overall understanding of the humanities, no matter what you're specializing in," says Kaveeshwar. "I think it's absolutely important in the modern world. I believe that, and the College of Arts and Sciences believes that. My personal appeal to everyone is to support that liberal arts education."
Kaveeshwar is well positioned to appreciate the real-world value of such an education. He is senior vice president of Raytheon Technical Services Company and general manager of Raytheon Information Technology and Scientific Services, a business unit of Raytheon Corporation and a worldwide provider of technical services to a wide variety of customers, including NASA and the United States Geological Survey. Prior to joining Raytheon, he was president of Hughes STX Corporation, a subsidiary of Hughes Aircraft, which was acquired by Raytheon in 1998.
Along with his professional responsibilities, Kaveeshwar also serves as a director of several nonprofit organizations, including the Wolf Trap Foundation board of directors, of which he was recently named vice chair. Calling the performing arts "another one of my passions," he points to the regional, national and international education programs of Wolf Trap, located in Virginia, as another example of the humanizing influence of liberal arts.
"To me, liberal arts education has to do with being a complete human being," he says. "Even if you're a scientist, you want to have an understanding of history, literature, music—the so-called ‘soft sciences'—and the arts."
Beyond an appreciation for other disciplines, Kaveeshwar also strongly believes a humanities education provides elements crucial to every educated person.
"Whether you're a scientist or anyone else, you have to be able to write and speak clearly. You need a good grounding in the basics of reasoning, logic and clear thinking," says Kaveeshwar. "These are all very, very fundamental. When you're competing for resources and funding, you need to communicate the advantages of what you're doing. In that way the ability to speak and write clearly is even more important than the knowledge of a particular discipline."
As a business leader in the high-technology sector, Kaveeshwar is also very excited about UB's growing role in cutting-edge research, and the university's potential as an engine of economic growth both in Western New York and nationally, as UB enters into public-private partnerships aimed at developing new technologies and products.
Referring to these partnerships as "clearly the wave of the future," he points to the positive impact of the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics, founded in 1999 by Paras Prasad, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Physics; the Center for Computational Research, which is one of the world's leading university supercomputing centers; and the Buffalo Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics, in which UB is the lead academic partner with Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute, founded by Distinguished Professor Herbert A. Hauptman, the 1985 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry.
"We need to make alumni aware of these exciting changes, and make them understand that in this day and age of tight budgets, it's very important that public institutions enjoy the financial support of their alumni," says Kaveeshwar. "I know President Greiner is not only supporting that vision, but is really a leader in that area."
Kaveeshwar also expresses enthusiasm for the university's progress in enriching the academic experience through programs such as the University Honors Program. "I had occasion to meet some of the university's undergraduate honors students," he remarks. "I was really impressed by their abilities."
That renewed sense of mission at UB, and a clear vision of the university's goals, made it easy for Kaveeshwar to accept when asked to serve on the Dean's Council, an advisory body that provides a valuable outside perspective on key issues the university is facing.
Of course, one of those issues is adequate funding to maintain and enhance the university's excellence in a time of reduced public expenditures for higher education. Again, it's an issue on which Kaveeshwar is passionate.
"We need to preserve the fantastic university system we have in the United States," he enthuses. "We have the best higher education system in the world. You can go to a state university like UB and get a truly first-class education at a fraction of the cost of other universities. It's important that we support UB with our gifts so the university can continue to offer this tremendous opportunity to students."
He points to the advantages enjoyed by leading private universities, with their large endowments, and to outstanding public universities such as the University of Virginia, which receives a lower percentage of its annual revenues from public funding than UB, yet continues to excel due to the generosity of alumni and friends.
"Our public education system is sometimes taken for granted, and people believe it will always be there," he says. "I don't think people understand how expensive a first-rate education is. You need first-rate researchers, and they need labs and libraries and resources. All these things require money. That's why we all need to support UB."
Kaveeshwar can also point to the rewards of investing in excellence. In 2001, his Raytheon business unit received NASA's George M. Low Award, the agency's highest honor for excellence and quality. Raytheon was the first company to be simultaneously nominated by three NASA centers. Calling the triple nomination "totally unprecedented," Kaveeshwar says, "It's a great honor. We're very proud."
He's quick to add that, for UB alumni, the price of excellence is never a barrier. "We need small gifts as well as large gifts. There are many opportunities to give at every level, both to The Campaign for UB and the annual campaign."
Under Kaveeshwar's leadership, the college has already raised $38.4 million of its total goal of $40 million. Alumni and friends of the college who haven't yet had an opportunity to give, or who would like to make a special or additional gift, can still make a gift to help UB realize its goal of becoming a nationally and internationally recognized leader in higher education.
Asked why, in addition to serving on the Dean's Council, he chose to help with The Campaign for UB, Kaveeshwar replies, "I got a superb education at the university, and I think that I owe a certain debt of gratitude for that," adding, "It's in the best tradition of philanthropy that we support the institutions that helped get us where we are today."
Blair Boone, Ph.D. '84, is a Buffalo-based freelance writer.