175 Years of Social Impact

President Tripathi discussing the strong partnership between UB’s Community Health Equity Research Institute, the African American Health Equity Task Force and the Buffalo Center for Health Equity in the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC).

This year, our university community observes the 175th anniversary of UB’s founding. As with any anniversary—be it personal, professional or institutional—the occasion finds me reflecting on the past and pondering what lies ahead.

First, to the past. As I trace UB’s progression from private medical college to premier public research university, I am struck by the many historic events that have shaped that evolution. As it turns out, a common thread connects these bygone episodes: Each inspired our students, faculty, staff and alumni to reaffirm UB’s mission of excellence.

Given the present moment, perhaps the most relatable example would be one that sorely tested our university community: the 1918 influenza pandemic.

It has been said that Buffalo weathered modern history’s deadliest pandemic better than most U.S. cities its size thanks in large part to UB’s leadership. That achievement is all the more commendable given the city’s vulnerability to an influenza disaster at that time—with aggravating factors ranging from a busy railroad hub that increased the likelihood of the virus breaching Buffalo’s borders, to the war effort overseas creating a dearth of healthcare professionals locally.

With the city’s reserves tapped and its resolve tested, our university community responded as we always do in times of crisis: by doubling down on our mission-driven priority to contribute to the welfare of others. To replenish the depleted ranks of physicians, our medical students cared for the ill. Buffalo’s acting health commissioner—a UB alumnus, I proudly note—convened an advisory committee consisting largely of UB faculty members who helped marshal the city to combat the virus.

Some 100 years later, we contend with a different pathogen under different circumstances. Yet I see the same determination and selflessness in our contemporary university community as we navigate these trying times. Whether serving on the front line of care, investigating therapeutics, or improving safety measures, we have met this critical moment not by wringing our hands, but by rolling up our sleeves.

So, to the future. You may be aware of our university’s ambition to situate UB among the nation’s top 25 public research institutions within the next decade. Thanks to the generosity of our friends and alumni, our Boldly Buffalo campaign is fueling this ambition by helping us further invest in our world-class faculty and make our transformative education even more accessible. Let me emphasize that UB’s Top 25 Ambition has nothing to do with pride. Rather, it is about enhancing our societal relevance and impact through research, education and engagement with the communities we serve. No matter what the next 175 years bring, our commitment to harnessing our ideas and innovation for the greater good remains constant.

That is why, as I look toward the horizon, I am filled with immense hope. From UB’s founding, society has relied on our disciplinary expertise to help solve the most vexing problems of the day.

It is our mission, and our privilege, to answer the call.