by Nicole Capozziello
Published May 22, 2020
With COVID-19 upending the ways we live, work, and learn, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences had to seek new ways to celebrate its 2020 graduates.
Held on the originally scheduled date of Saturday, May 16, the first-ever virtual commencement marked another first – the school conferred degrees to nearly 2,200 students, the largest class in its history. While the experience was new for everyone, it embodied the spirit of the school – community, diversity, and creativity.
In a video message, Kemper Lewis, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, addressed the Class of 2020 with words of congratulations and advice. “I know you will never forget completing your degree during COVID-19. I also won't forget that this was my first official event as dean with our graduates,” said Lewis. “While today is certainly not the day you had dreamed of, I'm hoping that each of you can reflect on this season of your life some time from now and recognize how you grew as a student, as an engineer, as a friend, as a son, as a daughter. . . as a human.”
The celebration continued with a video presentation by this year’s Deans Achievement Award winner, Robert Harrison (BS ’83), vice president of engineering and construction at Transmission Developers, Inc., and UB mechanical engineering alumnus. “Our society needs your intellectual and creative abilities to help solve current and future problems. I am confident that you are up to the challenge but it is up to you to seize the day (Carpe Diem)!”.
The four student speakers recorded their messages of reflection and congratulations to their class. They looked back on their unique paths while at UB, and the experiences they shared with their fellow engineering classmates.
“Despite the chaos of the situation, all of us have been able to achieve the goals we set off to at the start...All of us have fought for our success and have made sacrifices for it. We’ve all overcome obstacles nobody has ever had before us,” said Shanelle Ileto, graduating senior in computer engineering.
“In troubling times like this, people often approach problems by simply complaining about them, or wishing they would go away. Others may go a step further, making idealistic but ultimately impractical plans for trying to change the state of the world. Engineers are unique in this regard, because when we are presented with a problem we solve it,” offered Dakota Handzlik, graduating senior in computer engineering.
Molly Dreyer, a graduate student in environmental and water resources engineering, remarked that, “UB is a community comprised new and shared experiences; one that fosters a culture of compassion and inquiry and that drives us to new frontiers. This is the essence of what makes UB so unique. Our shared passion for the advancement of knowledge binds us together. Our differences challenge us to think critically and allow us to tap into unbound potential.”
Sanu Tharayil Raju, a masters student in industrial engineering/engineering management, told fellow graduates, “Becoming accustomed to the UB atmosphere wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our department staff and graduate academic advisors who helped guide us through every obstacle in our way. During our experience, we eagerly embraced our challenges, emerging as winners and today, we stand, at yet another milestone of our lives, prepared to prove ourselves in our next phase of life.”
The ceremony concluded with a video message from Jordan Walbesser (BS ‘07, JD ’09), president of the UB Engineering and Applied Sciences Alumni Association, who welcomed the graduates into the engineering and applied sciences alumni family. “Build upon our legacy. And don't lose sight of this: that you have the power to make an impact–both in the world and the lives of our students.”
While not part of the recorded ceremony this year, the school also congratulates its four SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence recipients. The prestigious award honors students who have “best demonstrated and been recognized for their integration of academic excellence with other aspects of their lives, which may include leadership, campus involvement, athletics, career achievement, community service, or creative and performing arts.” This year’s winners were Jonathan Bessette of mechanical engineering, Fatak G. Borhani of aerospace engineering, Liam Christie of electrical engineering, and Dennis C. Fedorishin of computer science.