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Ask Your President

An undergrad chosen at random gets to pose a question to President Tripathi

How important was your schooling, versus the practical experience you have gained over the years, in getting you to where you are today?

President Tripathi and Meagan McCadden

President Tripathi and Meagan McCadden. Photo: Douglas Levere

Meagan, your question gets to the heart of the national conversation we are having today about higher education. You have touched on questions about the value and purpose of higher education, and its relevance in terms of preparing graduates to succeed in the “real world."

But when we’re talking about education and practical experience, I don’t think it’s a matter of “either-or.” In the educational environment at its best, they are two sides of the same coin.

I’m happy to say that has been my own experience. As a young computer science student—between college and grad school—I had the incredible opportunity to work for a government-sponsored industrial firm that allowed me to see some of the concepts I had studied in action. That experience brought to life what I had learned in the classroom, and it gave me the motivation to take my experience to the next level by pursuing graduate study in computer science, first in India and then in Canada.

A strong academic foundation and rich practical experience complement and enrich each other at every turn. To me, what’s really interesting is the give-and-take between the two. An excellent education—one which provides a foundation of knowledge, and an ability to think clearly, creatively and critically—is what allows us to make meaning from experience. Applying that knowledge to practical, concrete problems and to the abstract questions that have challenged humans since the dawn of time—that is what brings classroom learning to life and gives it purpose.

In a nutshell, these are the principles behind the learning environment we aim to create at UB. That is why experiential learning—from study abroad to externship opportunities—plays such a vital role in the curricular transformation now underway. And it is why we have created so many opportunities across the disciplines for students to transform ideas into action—whether it’s internship opportunities, teaching practica, clinical experience for professional students in law and the social and health sciences, or performance and studio experience for students in the arts.

Your experience as a civil engineering student is a great example. You mentioned the hands-on opportunities you have had to apply academic principles to practical challenges—like the floating classroom you and your classmates designed from recycled bottles! Ten years from now, you may look back and see that that experience opened up a whole new world for you.

Indeed, experiences build on each other and configure themselves in unexpected and wonderful ways, so it’s impossible to predict exactly where your UB education will take you. But I am confident you will see the world differently because of what you learned here in the classroom, lab and field—and you will never run out of opportunities to apply those lessons in new and important ways.

I am always awestruck by the amazing projects and groundbreaking ideas our students are working on, and it’s truly exciting to imagine where those experiences might lead them tomorrow. So thank you for sharing some of your own exciting ideas and plans with me today—and all best wishes on the road ahead!

Meagan McCadden

A junior civil engineering major from Clarence, N.Y., Meagan McCadden enjoys hands-on learning; she recently helped design a floatable classroom made of recycled bottles. She spoke to the president about her interests in pursuing either geotechnical or environmental engineering, which led to a discussion about women in STEM. Tripathi noted that while women are gaining more representation in some areas of engineering (environmental and civil, in particular), overall participation continues to lag. “Something is happening at the junior high or high school levels,” he mused, to which McCadden acknowledged she was one of only two girls in an engineering class of 30 during her senior year. “Did the other young woman go into engineering?” Tripathi asked. “Yes,” McCadden replied. “She’s one of my best friends!”