Ask Your President

In each issue, an undergrad chosen at random gets to pose a question to President Tripathi

Can you describe your personal journey from India to the UB presidency?

President Tripathi and Lester Perez

I come from a long line of educators; we sometimes joke that education is the family business! I was born and raised in a small village in India, Patna Mubarkpur, and was drawn to the education field from a young age. But I never dreamed that I would have the opportunity to lead a major American research university like UB. My early ambitions were more modest: I hoped, through hard work and perseverance, that I might one day become a high school principal like my father. I would have taken great pride in that achievement, but I am very proud of where this path ultimately has taken me.

I am a computer scientist by training, though this was not my original academic focus. The computer science field was really in its infancy in the early 1970s, when I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in statistics from Banaras Hindu University. After graduation, I acquired my first experience with computers at the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta, a public research institution focused on statistics. I then worked briefly in systems programming at the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd., one of India’s first indigenous companies, before going on to Canada to continue my graduate studies. I earned a master’s degree in statistics from the University of Alberta and then went on to the University of Toronto, where I earned a third master’s degree, as well as a doctorate, in computer science.

From there, I followed a fairly typical route up the academic ranks—from faculty member to department chair, dean, provost and finally to the presidency. I came to the U.S. in 1978, when I joined the University of Maryland computer science faculty. I stayed there for 19 years, serving as chair for seven. In 1997, my family and I moved to the West Coast, where I served for several years as dean of the Bourns College of Engineering at the University of California-Riverside. In 2004, we made the trek back across the country to Buffalo when I became UB provost. Seven years later, I was appointed president. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Along the way, I’ve been fortunate to engage with some great thinkers and truly generous mentors. That is very much still the case today; I don’t think I will ever stop finding new things to learn from my colleagues and students. And I could not have achieved any of this success without my family—my wife, Kamlesh, and sons, Manish and Aashish, and my extended family in India.

From a very early age, my family taught me that, through education, one cannot only change one’s personal destiny, but also change the world for the better. That’s really the mission of public higher education. I’ve spent the better part of my life in public education, and I am proud to be continuing that tradition as president of one of the world’s great public research universities.

About our student Lester Perez

Perez, who’s pursuing a double major in theater and Spanish, recently transferred to UB from Los Angeles City College. He is the first person in his family to attend college and hopes to make it as a Broadway actor, possibly supplementing a stage career with work as a Spanish translator. He was clearly elated to be meeting the president in person. The two chatted easily during their photo shoot, discussing Perez’s studies and Tripathi’s own time in southern California. When photographer Doug Levere gave Perez some direction, Tripathi joked, “You’re an actor—you can do this!”