A conversation with President Tripathi

Published October 21, 2019

Satish K. Tripathi.

President Satish K.Tripathi recently sat down with UBNow to talk about UB's ambition to become one of the Top 25 public research universities in the country, as well as the accomplishments achieved under the UB 2020 strategic plan.

Two weeks ago, you gave your eighth State of the University address. In your address, you provided the university community with a retrospective view and began to outline our direction for the future. Before we talk about what is next for the university, can you talk briefly about the accomplishments that were achieved through UB2020?

First, let me thank you for the opportunity to talk about our many achievements over the past decade and a half.

As I have said before, when we began this chapter in our university’s history, UB was a very good institution — an institution with a rich history and great potential. And, I think as an entire university community, we felt we had the potential to be much better. And by much better, I mean more impactful research, innovative academic programs and transformative educational experiences for our students. As I noted in my address, over the past 15 years, our sponsored expenditures have risen from $129 million to $178 million. Our scholarly citations increased nearly 50% in just a six-year period. Of course, we have also received several large center grants — from the Clinical and Translational Science Award (NIH), three extensions of the landmark Women’s Health Initiative (NIH) and a $25 million Science and Technology Award from the NSF, along with a $22.5 million renewal award.

I have also been speaking quite a bit about our incredibly talented faculty. I know you asked me to speak briefly, but I want to mention that the number of UB faculty appointed to SUNY’s distinguished ranks has risen dramatically. Over the past 12 years or so, 74 faculty were appointed to these ranks. As a testament to the distinction of our early-career faculty, this past year 11 UB faculty were awarded with NSF’s Career Award, which is NSF’s most prestigious award for early-career teacher-scholars.

Let me speak a minute regarding our academic programs. Over the past several years, we wanted to innovate across our academic programs, including developing our interprofessional educational curriculum. As a result, the reputation of our programs and schools is rising. In fact, our schools of Dental Medicine, Social Work, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. and Public Health and Health Professions are all ranked in the top 35 in the nation.

We also wanted to transform our students’ undergraduate experiences to provide them with meaningful experiences. And as graduates, they would be prepared to live and lead in our globalized world. Let me give you a few examples of how we did this: We designed our innovative UB Curriculum, and we expanded opportunities for global education, internships, entrepreneurial and clinical and research experiences. And, of course, we launched Finish in 4. And here’s a glimpse of some results of these efforts: our four-year graduation rate rose from 35% to 60%, applications to UB have risen by nearly 40% and our students have received very prestigious awards and honors — Marshall, Udall, Truman and Goldwater scholarships, for example.

Over the last decade, we have really witnessed the physical transformation of our three campuses. Can you give us some highlights and talk about what projects are on the horizon?

As you know, our campuses’ physical transformation has been guided by our campus master plan. The buildings and renovation that have been completed are intended to enhance our students’ living-learning environment, teaching and learning, and research. We have also been working to beautify the campus. During Homecoming weekend, I spoke with so many alumni and friends who remarked how great the campuses look and that all three campuses have been transformed. Of course, moving the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences to our downtown medical campus was our largest project. On the North Campus, the Heart of the Campus initiative focused on creating a learning landscape in the center of the academic spine. This included the redesign of the Silverman Library and a streamlining of student services in 1Capen. Most recently, the opening of the Murchie Family Fieldhouse, our new student-athlete indoor training facility, has created an incredible indoor training space for our student-athletes.

And on the South Campus, the renovation and beautiful restoration of Hayes Hall and our iconic clock tower were terrific projects, as well our Heart of the Campus — 1 Diefendorf. These examples express how our built environment helps foster a conducive environment for teaching, learning, experimenting and contemplating.

So, you asked, “What’s next?” We are working on renovating Townsend Hall, and our plan is to renovate Parker Hall so we can bring the entirety of the School of Social Work to the South Campus and to renovate Foster Hall to bring the Graduate School of Education to the South Campus as well. Of course, One World Café will create a new front door to the North Campus while serving as both marketplace dining and community space for our faculty, staff and students.  

Of course, every aspect of our master plan is guided by environmentally sound practices. In fact, next year, we are installing solar panels on grounds and rooftops across our campuses.

I am convinced that we exceeded our own expectations of UB2020. So, the next obvious question is with the year 2020 fast approaching, what’s next?

To begin, let me remind you that UB2020 was never about a date, a year. It was about our vision to become among the best public research universities in the nation by strengthening our impact here at home and around the world. Simply stated, we did this by focusing on academic and research excellence.

In my State of the University address, I said that the principles of academic and research excellence steered us well. As I mentioned earlier, if you take a look at the outcomes of our work — research, scholarship, student success, and decanal and institutional rankings — we know we are on the right course.

With all that we have accomplished propelling us forward, I believe that UB can rise even further in the ranks of the AAU. And, I believe in the next decade, UB can be among the top 25 public research universities in the nation. This is a bold ambition, but I believe it is an achievable ambition.

Top 25 in the nation. You said it was a bold ambition, but can you describe how we are going to achieve this mark?

First and foremost, we must excel in our mission-driven priorities. Our academic departments must be the very best in the nation. We need to continue to innovate across our undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. We must attract and retain the best and most ambitious students. Our research, scholarship and creative work must truly create a positive impact on people’s lives, communities and our world.

Perhaps, a more concrete example is in order. To do just as I described, we must focus on enhancing innovation and excellence across our PhD programs. With the leadership of our faculty, the goal is to strengthen program curriculum, elevate scholarship impact and enhance diversity. In the end, our programs and our student outcomes will be stronger.

In addition, we will continue to focus on enhancing our scholarly productivity and research portfolio. That includes increasing the number of large center grant awards.

Moving forward, we will also provide our undergraduate and graduate students with more opportunities for innovative, globally minded research experiences.

As a public research university, we do all these things not for the purpose of rising in the rankings. These mission-driven priorities are all intended to achieve greater societal impact. We want to deepen our engagement in our local and global communities by bringing the benefits of our research, creative work and clinical expertise to our local and global communities. We want to make certain that our graduates are prepared to live and lead — to truly make a difference in our globalized world. And to do this we must make certain that equity and inclusion are fully integrated into all aspects of our university.

As I thank you for your time today, President Tripathi, how will we know that we are moving toward achieving our top 25 ambition?

We will know that we are moving toward achieving our Top 25 ambition when more of our academic programs and schools are touted as among the very best in the nation.

We will know it when more of our faculty, students and professional staff are awarded with the highest honors in their respective fields. We will know it when our graduates are being sought out by the very best universities, companies and organizations in the nation.

We will know it when our research impact is among the best in the nation and the world — measured by extramural funding, large center grants, scholarly citations, patents and licenses. And we will know it when the communities we engage with are healthier and characterized by their cultural and economic vibrancy.

Thank you. I very much enjoyed our conversation.