The term “sustainability,” as it relates to using
Earth’s resources wisely, can be problematic, Timothy
Killeen, president of the SUNY Research Foundation, said during a
visit to UB.
It could, he told roughly 60 faculty and staff members gathered
in the Center for the Arts, be interpreted as maintaining some type
of miserable but persistent universe. In its place, he argued for
the use of “thrivability,” which is similar but implies
a sense of progress.
“Just try it out a few times,” said Killeen, also
SUNY’s vice chancellor for research, acknowledging that it
may sound odd initially.
The theme of thrivability was spread throughout a roughly
hour-long speech that Killeen delivered at UB, SUNY’s largest
and most comprehensive university. The speech borrowed heavily from
his immediate past job as the National Science Foundation’s
assistant director for geosciences. In that position, Killeen
managed an $880 million portfolio for scientific research and high
technology economic development.
He highlighted several aspects of his tenure at NSF,
particularly facilities built, such as the NCAR-Wyoming
Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne, which will help researchers
better calculate climate change, and the R/V Sikuliaq, a $200
million state-of-the-art boat designed for Arctic research.
While UB and SUNY might not land such high-profile climate
change research projects, the university and the SUNY system have a
tremendous opportunity to tackle issues that threaten the
well-being of New York, the United States and the world, he
“Unless we take this challenge on, we will have missed an
opportunity” to conduct rigorous scientific research that
will benefit Earth for generations to come, he said.
Researchers must not only seek state and federal funding, but
also international partnerships, he said, adding that they must
continue, when possible, to integrate students into their work as
In addition to conducting groundbreaking medical, engineering
and social sciences research, UB researchers are working across the
globe studying everything from the polar ice sheets to volcanoes.
Their work, combined with the university’s commitment to
offset its carbon emissions by 2030, appears to put UB in line with
Killeen, who started his dual role at SUNY in June, spent the
majority of his career at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor,
serving both as a faculty member and administrator. A member of the
National Academy of Engineering, he was director of the National
Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., from
He earned a PhD in atomic and molecular physics from University
College London in the United Kingdom.