Leaving everything behind for the UB dream

woman holding tennis racket.

UB graduate student Ambre Amat came to UB to pursue her dream of playing Division I tennis and building a more sustainable world. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

By Charles Anzalone, originally published in UBNow

Published July 24, 2023



headshot of ambre amat, a tennis star for UB with sustainability interests.
“It was the scariest and most exciting decision I ever made."
Ambre Amat, master's student in environmental engineering

UB environmental engineering master’s student Ambre Amat spent her childhood traveling the world, global adventures that eventually led her to UB.

Amat vividly remembers the breathtaking ecosystems of those early years: the sparkling water and amazing beaches of Thailand and Bali, where she dove for the first time; the density of Taman Negara, the world’s oldest rainforests in Malaysia; diving in the pure sunlight and darkness of the Great Barrier Reef, where she slept for a night.

“It was just magical,” she says.

Her trips observing the ecosystems along the Mediterranean coast in Spain, Greece and Italy near her hometown of Antibes, France, shaped her character and capacity for enchantment.

Amat’s parents believed traveling would help their children grow. So before she was 17, she had been to 30 countries. But her world-traveling education came with an awakening. She saw coral dying in the Great Barrier Reef, polluted rivers becoming the norm in Thailand, palm oil harvesting destroying trees and the green balance in the Taman Negara, waste on the coasts of her beloved Mediterranean Sea.

Eventually, another interest would lead her to UB. Amat had played competitive tennis since she was 3, “and never stopped since.”

“I grew up spending most of my time either in the sea or on a tennis court,” she says.

After reaching a high level when she was 11, she fell out of favor with the national French Tennis Federation, stepped back and pursued other sports. But by the time she was 17 she had cultivated her hard-earned confidence and became one of the top players in her country.

“It showed me I am the only one who needs to believe in my skills to accomplish anything,” she says.

At age 17 and still living in France, Amat made what she calls the most important decision of her life. She left everything behind to come to a place where she knew no one and had never been before: the University at Buffalo. Since she was 10, Amat had dreamed of studying and competing at a quality Division I American university. So when UB women’s tennis coach Kristen Maines came to Antibes to recruit her, she accepted the offer.

“It was the scariest and most exciting decision I ever made,” she says.

A little over four years later, Amat graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in environmental geosciences, inspired by those frequent diving trips throughout the world. She is pursuing a master’s in environmental engineering — “I realized something must change and I knew in which direction I wanted to dedicate my career,” she says. She was named the tennis team’s MVP this year for winning the most matches on her team. “Playing for UB is thrilling and I am always super excited to defend the colors of my team,” says Amat, who has one year of eligibility left.

Amat worked with UB Sustainability during the spring semester on a project she calls Green Athletic. Its goal was to create a “green athletic department” at UB to demonstrate the university's commitment to environmental sustainability and responsible resource management, as well as improve awareness among student athletes. Green Athletic focuses on advocacy, sustainable practices, waste reduction and recycling equipment.

And her life still follows her philosophy of “how simple I tend to be. I think it’s very important to find happiness in small things around us,” she says.

“I dedicate a lot of my time to appreciate life. I think that success needs to also be defined as taking the time to appreciate things and people around me. Being happy is not defined by the amount of problems we encounter, but by how we react to them, thus being always calm and positive have been guiding my life.”

Since she was 10, Amat had dreamed of studying and competing at a quality Division I American university. Photo: Paul Hokanson/UB Bulls.

Since she was 10, Amat had dreamed of studying and competing at a quality Division I American university. Photo: Paul Hokanson/UB Bulls

The good vibe

Maines says Amat is an easy athlete to talk about “because she has so many great qualities.” She describes Amat as a “powerful teammate, a selfless player who puts the team before herself. She was assistant captain, a leader both on and off the court.

“She is one of those athletes you are excited about having at practice,” says Maines. “She brings a good vibe.”

Amat is outgoing, at times a “jokester,” says Maines. “She loves to have a good time and make people smile around her.”

Amat is one of the few players Maines knows who can execute the “tweener,” a trick shot where the player chases a lob over her head, then returns the ball with a stroke between her legs with her back to her opponent. Maines has watched Amat execute the crowd-pleasing shot in UB matches, as well as when she first watched Amat in Antibes. 

Protecting the earth

Amat sees herself pursuing a PhD in marine sciences, researching marine species on the U.S. coast.

“Seeing the impacts that humans have on our natural habitats is something that really matters to me,” she says. “I would try my best to dedicate my career to the protection, conservation and restoration of these natural habitats, especially marine ecosystems.”

She says she will probably keep playing tennis as a hobby. And, of course, traveling and exploring new places will remain lifelong passions.

“My parents made traveling a priority as a learning method to become better people,” Amat says. “Thus, traveling has been part of our education and gave to my two brothers and I amazing values: being open-minded, learning from others, sharing, sense of responsibility, leaving our comfort zones, be spontaneous, appreciate little things, never stop learning, the importance of family, learning different languages, to be humble.

“I will always be grateful for all these amazing experiences,” she says, “and for my amazing parents.”

global goals.

13. Climate Action

16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions