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Story by Charlotte Hsu; photos by Douglas Levere, BA ’89
With a new president and plans for expanding or improving all three campuses, the university is in the midst of its most ambitious transformation since joining SUNY half a century before. So far, 2011 has been a year of change and promise, with the state approving funding for a plan that will—among other key university developments—enable UB to bring more of the world’s best faculty to Buffalo and also move the medical school to its historic home downtown by 2016. Across UB, there is energy and excitement as the institution marks the start of another chapter in its storied history. With so much happening, UB President Satish K. Tripathi says there’s no place he’d rather be.
Seven years have passed since you joined UB in 2004 as provost. Why have you stayed?
I’ve observed, firsthand, the quality that exists at UB, and working closely with our faculty, staff, students and university supporters over the years has given me a unique vantage point to appreciate the vast potential of the university. UB’s capacity to be even better than it is today, I believe, has created a tremendous amount of excitement across our university. I envision a UB that will have an even greater impact on our community and a reach that expands the globe. I am both excited and humbled by this opportunity to lead our university at such a pivotal point in its long and distinguished history.
Looking ahead, what are some of the biggest challenges facing UB?
The most accomplished and ambitious students want to study with renowned faculty, and the greatest challenge in any university is to recruit the best students and faculty and retain them. If you look at institutions of our size and stature, they have a lot more endowed faculty chairs than we have. As president, the challenge for me is to work with deans to raise at least $150 million to add 100 new endowed chairs, and another $200 million for scholarships and fellowships to attract great students.
What values will drive decision-making at UB in years to come?
To me, the UB 2020 strategic plan that we have been implementing has three components—three “Es.” Those are excellence, engagement and efficiency. By excellence, I mean academic excellence—the benchmark we use to measure all that we undertake at UB, and the core of our institutional mission. Our engagement is with all the communities we serve locally as well as globally—engagement with alumni, with the city, with elected officials and with institutional partners within SUNY, across the nation and around the world.
Efficiency is really an over-arching principle of doing more with less—whether that means using our resources strategically in the face of financial challenges, striving for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability across campus operations, or realigning our academic units and strengths so they are positioned to achieve their full potential, as we are seeking to do in moving the medical school downtown where it will be closer to health care and research partners in the city of Buffalo.
Academic excellence is the foundation of all these values, because academic excellence has a ripple effect: With better students and faculty, we create better technology and jobs. Our purpose is not to seek knowledge for reputational gain. Our purpose is to make our region and world a better place. Our goal is to contribute to the solution of society’s most vexing problems, and to contribute to our community’s economic and cultural vitality.
UB’s footprint is growing downtown. What changes can we expect to see?
There’s so much going on downtown, with the Regional Institute, Office of Economic Engagement and other offices now in the Downtown Gateway. A new Educational Opportunity Center is under construction, along with the UB-Kaleida Health clinical care and research building. This is a 10-story facility, where UB researchers will work on developing treatments and technologies.
“I am both excited and humbled by this opportunity to lead our university at such a pivotal point in its long and distinguished history.” Satish K. Tripathi
As I just mentioned, we are also excited about our plans to relocate the medical school to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus over the next five years. With the passage of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NYSUNY 2020 bill, we now have the tools to begin to move forward. In addition, a truly extraordinary $40 million gift from a medical school alumnus who has asked to remain anonymous will facilitate the hiring of new faculty as this move takes place. (See page 18.) We are tremendously grateful for all this support—the transformation under way would not be possible without the support of our alumni, friends and community.
Why do you feel it’s so important for UB to continue investing in Buffalo?
Our growing downtown presence will strengthen Buffalo’s emerging biomedical economy, creating jobs in the community while also expanding opportunities for our students and faculty. The relocation of the medical school in particular will bring UB researchers closer to partners, including Kaleida Health, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and life sciences companies. It makes sense for Western New York and it makes sense for UB. Our university’s future and our community’s future are inseparable.
What should people know about you that they might not know?
I’m a sports fanatic. Fanatic is a strong word, but I really love sports—watching, not playing. I thoroughly enjoy going to Bulls games and cheering on our student athletes. I just love the competition. With regard to my profession, people may not know that I have had many research collaborations internationally, not just in India, but also with colleagues in Italy, Germany, France, Canada and Taiwan.
Do you ever miss teaching?
My father was a teacher, and I always wanted to teach. I enjoyed science and math when I was growing up, and I used to help the other kids in class. Later, as a professor, I always found mentoring students to be one of the most rewarding and energizing aspects of my work. From there, I moved on to become a department chair, a dean, a provost and, now, a president. I view this as a natural progression.
I do still try to teach a 1-credit freshman seminar every year. It gives me an avenue to really be connected to the students. We exist because of the students, and we need to understand their culture, their expectations. After all, they are the future of UB and the future of all the communities we serve, from the local to the global.
Satish K. Tripathi, UB’s first international-born president, is the fourth generation in a long line of educators. Before him, his father was a high school principal. Now, Tripathi’s elder son, Manish, is carrying on the family business as a member of Emory University’s marketing faculty.
Tripathi and his wife, Kamlesh, who now live in the president’s residence in Amherst, N.Y., also have a son Aashish, who is a member of e-Bay’s business-development team in San Francisco.
Education has been at the center of Tripathi’s life since he was a boy.
At 13, in India, he left his home village of Patna in Uttar Pradesh to attend senior high school in Faizabad, a town about 2 ½ hours away by bus. Instead of commuting each day, he lived at a hostel. Later, he graduated at the top of his class at Banaras Hindu University, and he received three advanced degrees in computer science and statistics from Banaras, the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto.
A career of more than 30 years in academia has taken Tripathi from the classrooms of the University of Maryland, where he started as a computer science lecturer in 1978, to the president’s office at UB.
As he has ascended in his profession, education has remained his priority. He has formed lasting friendships with students, even keeping in touch—through visits, phone calls and holiday cards—with the first doctoral candidate he ever advised. This spring, he plans to make room in his schedule to teach a freshman seminar on data mining.
So it’s no surprise that as president, Tripathi, 60, is bringing the conversation about UB back to “first principles.” Academic excellence—great faculty, great students, great teaching and great research—is what will strengthen UB’s impact on Buffalo Niagara and the world, he asserts.
When Tripathi joined UB as provost in 2004, the university was just launching UB 2020, the strategic plan that drives decisions in areas from academics to campus beautification. The transformation has been UB’s most ambitious since joining SUNY in 1962. As provost, with then-President John B. Simpson, he spearheaded the creation and implementation of the academic vision of excellence that is the heart of this plan—a vision that has led UB to achieve significant growth in research activity, enhanced student quality and diversity, and an expanded international presence.
With a soft-spoken determination and a collegial approach, Tripathi is well-matched for his new role. As dean of UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering from 1997 to 2004, he had grown the college from a single department and research center to four departments and five interdisciplinary research centers.
In Buffalo, Tripathi has moved UB 2020 forward even as state budget cuts have repeatedly hit the university.
His accomplishments include working with faculty to pinpoint eight UB 2020 Strategic Strengths—areas of interdisciplinary scholarship that now comprise the core of UB’s academic activity—and hiring more than 100 researchers into those strengths.
The resulting atmosphere of collaboration has attracted graduate students who have published in top journals and partnered with companies to develop products in medicine, computing, nanomaterials and other fields. The caliber of undergraduates also has improved, with UB enrolling its most academically talented freshman class for three straight years.
These successes have generated excitement across UB, and Tripathi is looking forward to what comes next. His vision for UB’s future focuses on moving UB into the highest ranks of the nation’s leading research universities, expanding its reach and impact in the process. To the president’s office, he brings the same qualities that made him a great teacher for 19 years at the University of Maryland at College Park: He is thoughtful, good at listening and respectful of others.
Colleagues praise his diplomatic skills and say his professional success is in part due to his warm demeanor. They describe him as a man of integrity in personal and business relations.
Indeed, faculty and administrative colleagues have noted when they have had concerns about UB or personal, career-related matters, Tripathi has made time to meet. It’s the same accessibility that entrepreneur Richard Upton, Tripathi’s first-ever PhD student, remembers from his days at Maryland. Back then, Tripathi stood out as a professor who was genuinely interested in his students.
“If you had something you wanted to chat with him about, he was always able to do that outside the classroom,” Upton recalls.
Years later, that part of Tripathi hasn’t changed.
“Satish is very committed to UB, and he is, first and foremost, a professor,” says Alexander Cartwright, vice president for research. “He believes that the No. 1 priority for the institution should be education. It’s about teaching the next generation of researchers.”
President Satish K. Tripathi is visiting 20 cities in 20 months to meet with UB alumni and share his vision for the university—he began the tour Oct. 1 in Knoxville where the Bulls took on the UT Volunteers. For the latest tour updates and information, click here.
*Countries to be determined