School of Management opens new undergraduate center

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 30, the School of Management celebrated the opening of its new Undergraduate Learning and Community Center, a destination for more than 2,900 undergraduates in the school to connect with their peers and develop skills for lifelong success.

Located in the lower level of Jacobs Management Center, the 5,800-square-foot space includes tutoring facilities, three classrooms, a glass-walled breakout room and the Frank and Marilyn Clement Undergraduate Community Hub, named for the center’s lead donors.

Seattle residents Frank, BS ’66, and Marilyn Clement were present to cut the ribbon before an audience that included faculty, staff, students and alumni.

“The Undergraduate Learning and Community Center is a place for our undergraduates to gather and feel at home from the moment they step on campus,” said Paul E. Tesluk, interim dean of the School of Management.

Connie Hanel, manager of the Undergraduate Learning and Community Center, talks about the center during a guided tour. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

“The state-of-the-art center will help attract the best students to the School of Management, further cementing our reputation as one of the best business schools in the world,” Tesluk added.

Within the facility, undergraduates can take advantage of a variety of services to help them meet their academic goals. Center-certified tutors lead one-on-one and group tutoring for several courses, and an ESL coach is available to assist international students with their English skills and adjustment to American culture. Study groups, open work sessions and workshops also are offered.

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Zirnheld among 100 inspiring women in STEM

Jennifer L. Zirnheld, associate professor of electrical engineering, has been named by INSIGHT into Diversity magazine as one of 100 Inspiring Women in STEM.

The national award recognizes women whose work and achievements are encouraging a new generation of women to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) while also providing support to others working in STEM fields.

Zirnheld, whose research focuses on the use of electrical engineering innovations in fighting cancer, has written and served as co-investigator on grants, contracts and fellowships from industry and government. She also serves on the steering committee for the UB Institute for the Strategic Enhancement of Educational Diversity (iSEED).

Zirnheld cites serving as a mentor for undergraduate students as among her most rewarding experiences. She was one of five faculty members who were honored in 2011 with the inaugural UB Faculty Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity. The award recognizes faculty who establish a strong professional mentoring relationship with students, act as role models for methods of inquiry in their disciplines, and promote responsible and ethical conduct of research or creative activity.

“Jennifer has demonstrated an ability to inspire students — especially female students — to seek careers in STEM-related fields,” says Liesl Folks, dean of UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We are delighted that she has received this well-deserved recognition.”

“I always urge students to take advantage of a key asset that is available to them — the fact that UB is a top research university,” Zirnheld says. “I encourage them to try an internship or REU (a research experience for undergraduates) as soon as possible. Participation can help to build up their resume and they could discover career paths that they may never have considered.”

Zirnheld emphasizes the important role former UB engineering faculty members played as her mentors when she was a student.

“I was in my senior year and not sure what I was going to do when I graduated,” she says, “when Richard Dollinger, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the UB engineering school, invited me into his research lab.

“The invite was for 8 a.m. on a Saturday, so I put it off. Eventually, I decided to check it out and had my own transformative moment that inspired me to go on to graduate school and a PhD. Dr. Dollinger helped to shape my thinking and my career.”

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Read our profile of Dr. Zirnheld here.

Jacobs family makes historic $30 million gift to UB medical school

Jeremy M. Jacobs, his wife, Margaret, and their family have given $30 million to the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, a historic gift as the school undergoes an ambitious period of expansion that will enable it to pursue innovative medical education, research and patient care.

As chairman of global hospitality and food service company Delaware North and one of the community’s most dedicated philanthropists, Jacobs is a longtime supporter of UB. He has served as chairman of the UB Council since 1998 and has provided invaluable service to the university over three decades, spanning the tenures of five UB presidents.

The gift to the medical school was inspired by the essential role that medical schools play in pioneering health care breakthroughs and advancing patient care in their communities.

In recognition of Jacobs’ tremendous service and philanthropy to the university, the UB medical school will be named the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, UB President Satish K. Tripathi announced today.

“This is a great and historic milestone for UB, as the first school-naming in our university’s long and distinguished history. It is truly fitting that the medical school — UB’s founding school — would have this great distinction,” Tripathi said. “And it is equally fitting that it should bear the name of an individual and a family who truly embody the vision that has guided our university for the better part of two centuries. No one could ask for a greater champion or a greater friend to UB than Jeremy Jacobs and the Jacobs family have been over the years. We are honored to have this opportunity to recognize that great generosity in this meaningful and lasting way.”

With the gift to UB’s medical school, the Jacobs family’s giving to the university totals more than $50 million, making the Jacobs family one of UB’s most generous benefactors. The gift is the largest to the $200 million campaign for the UB medical school and brings the school to 80 percent ($160 million) of its goal.

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UB moves up in ‘top 50’ ranking of best public universities in the nation

The University at Buffalo has earned a ‘top 50’ ranking for the second straight year, according to U.S. News and World Report. The magazine’s 2016 Best Colleges Rankings, released Sept. 9, again named UB among the best universities in the country.

UB earned distinction as one of the top public universities in the nation, ranking No. 45 – up three spots from last year’s No. 48 – among public universities. UB also broke into the “top 100” ranking for national universities, placing 99th. U.S. News bases its rankings on an assessment of 1,400 of the country’s four-year colleges and universities.

Also earning a top ranking with U.S. News was UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which rose to No. 63 from No. 65 among the nation’s best undergraduate engineering programs at schools whose highest degree is a doctorate. UB’s School of Management was ranked No. 80 out of more than 700 accredited schools, higher than any other business school in the State University of New York system. The engineering and management schools ranked 37 and 50, respectively, when ranked among public universities.

“At UB, we deliver academic excellence through exceptional educational opportunities and impactful research,” said UB Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Charles F. Zukoski.

“Our students learn from the top scholars in their fields and participate in research projects, and cultural and community engagement activities. We are very pleased that our distinctive programs and commitment to excellence have been recognized again by U.S. News and World Report.”

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UB a finalist for national graduation rate award

UB is among five public research universities selected by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) as finalists for the 2015 APLU Project Degree Completion Award recognizing universities that embrace innovative strategies to increase undergraduate student retention and graduation rates, and create clear, accelerated pathways for student success.

The award is part of Project Degree Completion — a joint initiative developed by the APLU and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) — in which nearly 500 public colleges and universities pledge to collectively award 3.8 million more degrees by 2025.

The APLU will present the award at its annual meeting, November 15-17 in Indianapolis.

“We are committed to providing a transformative educational experience for all of our students and helping them succeed in their academic endeavors,” says Charles Zukoski, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “I am proud of our university community for their dedication to our students’ success and timely degree completion, and I am pleased that the APLU is recognizing UB’s efforts.”

APLU representatives cited UB’s Student Success Initiative and Finish in Four program in recognizing the university’s commitment to providing the resources needed for students to graduate in four years.

“UB’s Student Success Initiative and Finish in Four program provide students with enhanced support throughout their entire undergraduate career,” says Scott Weber, senior vice provost for academic affairs.

“They represent a far-reaching, multi-pronged approach to meeting our students’ graduation goals by helping them understand their responsibilities, and they demonstrate the university’s commitment to helping students earn their degree in a timely manner.”

Finish in Four has attracted national attention as a model program for increasing college affordability and was a catalyst for a 2013 visit to UB by President Barack Obama, during which he delivered a major speech on national higher education policy.

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UB invests in Communities of Excellence to address societal problems

The University at Buffalo is investing $25 million in an initiative that will harness the strengths of UB faculty from disciplines across the university to confront grand challenges facing humankind.

The university announced today the establishment of three new Communities of Excellence — an innovative and integrated approach to addressing critical societal challenges through impactful interdisciplinary research, education and engagement.

Through Communities of Excellence, teams of faculty will work together to find solutions, pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and understanding. Faculty leaders within communities plan to create new educational opportunities that cut across multiple academic disciplines in order to address the focus area of each community.

The three Communities of Excellence, chosen from nearly 100 initial concept proposals submitted by faculty teams, are:

  • Global Health Equity. This community will work to address the challenge of global health inequity by bringing together faculty and students from the health sciences and disciplines that are focused on the social, economic, political and environmental conditions that lead to inequities. This community will tackle problems ranging from a lack of access to sanitation for women and girls in poor countries to high rates of non-communicable diseases due to complex sets of factors, including tobacco use and the environment.
  • Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART). This community will build upon UB’s reputation as a leader in advanced manufacturing and design by developing the next generation of manufacturing technologies, processes and education that enable sustainable, cost-effective production of high-quality, customizable products. SMART will leverage university and regional strength in manufacturing and partner with regional companies to educate future manufacturing leaders and shape national policy.
  • The Genome, the Environment and the Microbiome (GEM). This community will work to advance understanding of areas that will enable development of personalized medicine and empower individuals to have greater control over and understanding of their health, the human genome and the human microbiome — the trillions of microorganisms living in and on the human body. Through collaboration among the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, GEM will enhance UB’s reputation in genomics to make UB a national model for promoting and increasing genomic literacy.

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Anthropology freshman wins Fulbright to study in UK

A UB anthropology student just finishing her freshman year will take her passion for the “connections through time” to Durham University in Great Britain, one of three 2015 UB Fulbright Scholars poised for world travel and instant academic honor as they complete their semesters.

Anna Porter, who recently turned 19, will travel to England as part of the Fulbright Summer Institute, widely considered one of the most selective and prestigious summer scholarship programs in the world. Porter will spend four weeks on a major archaeological project, studying on site at the northern edges of the Roman Empire in Britain and exploring the culture and heritage of the United Kingdom.

For Porter, whose whirlwind freshman year has ended with acceptance at two of the three major summer fellowships she applied for — she’s also going to New Mexico as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates — it’s another step on an intellectual journey powered by a concept she calls “connectivity.”

Porter, whose hometown is the Syracuse suburb of Manlius, is another example of a UB student who competes and excels competing against the top students at any university, says Elizabeth Colucci, coordinator of fellowships and scholarships for UB.

“Anna participated in UB’s fellowship and scholarship development program called ‘Spark.’” says Colucci, whose program has enjoyed a particularly successful year finding UB students national and international fellowships.

“During this program, she learned about an exciting opportunity for freshmen and sophomores to travel to the United Kingdom with the prestigious UK Summer Fulbright Institutes. She had a chance to hear from UB’s first UK Summer Fulbright winner, Dylan Burns. So Anna is UB’s second student to win this prestigious award and I anticipate that more freshmen and sophomores at UB will become Summer Fulbrighters.”

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UB alumnus shares Pulitzer for coverage of Washington mudslide

Marcus Yam came to the University at Buffalo to study engineering. He left besotted by photojournalism.

Now he can claim a Pulitzer Prize, widely considered the highest honor in the United States for journalism, for his role in The Seattle Times’ coverage of a horrific mudslide that killed 43 people in rural Washington.

The honor, awarded under the breaking news category, was one of 14 journalism Pulitzers announced last month. (The Buffalo News was a finalist for the same award for its coverage of last November’s historic snowstorm.)

“It has been a very humbling experience,” said Yam, a native of Malaysia who earned a bachelor’s of science degree in aerospace engineering from UB in 2007. “You don’t expect to win anything like that in your lifetime.”

Yam was the only Times photographer on-duty when reports of the mudslide surfaced on the morning of March 22, 2014. He rushed to the scene and encountered chaos. The mudslide engulfed an entire neighborhood.

He was soon hanging out of a helicopter, taking pictures that would be distributed worldwide showing the mudslide’s devastating effects. He spent days at the site, capturing images of residents, rescue workers and the landscape.

The award, Yam said, is bittersweet because so many people died. However, he is proud of the work that he and his co-workers did.

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Economics major wins prestigious Boren Scholarship

Casey Rothberg, only the second UB student ever to win the competitive David L. Boren Scholarship, fits the scholarship program’s profile on paper well. Her application is the picture of a practical-minded, sensible student who hopes to work for the U.S. government one day, traveling to China for 10 months to learn the language so she can help the U.S. and China collaborate in Middle Eastern affairs.

In person, that image of Rothberg seems incomplete. She’s a natural communicator, a great listener, a dancer, engaging and with wide interests ranging from her saxophone to “adventure.” When listing what she loves, she writes “FOOD” in capital letters.

And there’s a playful touch to her lifelong drive to learn Mandarin that will take her to Capital Normal University in Beijing. She wrote down the Mandarin name she chose for herself the first week of class: 吴凯西. The phonetic pronunciation is “woo kai she,” part of which sounds like Casey, her first name.

When asked to write something in Mandarin, she writes 我很喜欢饺子.

Translation: “I really like dumplings.”

The identity that is alive and well on her Boren scholarship essay certainly applies. Rothberg wrote about how her continuing expertise in Mandarin and experience in Chinese culture will be useful in dealing with countries crucial to the future security and stability of the U.S.

“The political positions and ideological principles of the U.S. and China, democratic and communist respectively, differ in many aspects,” Rothberg wrote to the Boren committee. “However, one thing we do agree on is a stable economic system.

“As an economics major, I understand the importance of this common interest in economic power that is bonding the two largest economies together. This economic bond must be strengthened in order to create political alignment and, in turn, alignment on many other issues. The capitalistic market of the U.S. will hopefully influence China, the most prominent Communist nation, to strengthen capitalistic and democratic ideas in their own market.”

Rothberg recognizes the more formal pose the scholarship committee is looking for. And she is willing and able to present herself this way, but with a qualifier:

“Only when I have to,” she says.

Either way, Rothberg — whose family lives in Beacon, a small city in Dutchess County, a short drive from Poughkeepsie — is another shining example of how UB students are successfully competing for national and international scholarships and fellowships.

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UB’s Fulbright Scholar has passion for teaching, cultural diversity

Abigail LaPlaca — award-winning Latin American dance team choreographer, lover of languages, worldwide adventure-traveler, University at Buffalo Presidential Scholar and 2015 Fulbright Scholar — saw her vision of the transforming power of education come to life in an 8-year-old Dominican Republic girl named Tainalis.

While volunteering to teach English through UB’s Honors College during spring break her sophomore year, LaPlaca first saw Tainalis as she ran into the makeshift classroom in the small city of Monte Cristi. Tainalis was one of about 100 young students who had come to learn English in a program that teaches what LaPlaca called “the local, eager children.”

Once again, LaPlaca found a lasting connection revolving around education, cultural diversity and a shared sense of humanity.

“She scampered into the classroom, headed straight for the books and darted over to me with one firmly in hand,” LaPlaca recalled. “It was none other than ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ by Dr. Seuss.

“We sat down in a corner together and began reading,” LaPlaca wrote in the personal statement that obviously spoke to the Fulbright judges. “I would say a word and she would repeat it. Soon, I realized that we were reading simultaneously.

“As my voice faded away, hers continued on alone, halting, yet clear: ‘Oh, the places you’ll go! You’re off to great places! Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!’”

LaPlaca, who turned 22 in March, willingly recounts this story with the zeal and expression of someone who savors language and who admits she doesn’t dodge the limelight. She tells it with all its conflicting joy and heartbreak. The rustic classroom with the concrete floor was surrounded by a typical Dominican environment: “brilliantly hued flora disguising and distracting from the crumbling, barbed-wire fenced dwellings that lined the hard, mud-packed streets of Monte Cristi,” the small, poor Dominican fishing village bordering on the Gulf of Mexico where LaPlaca spent her week as a teacher volunteer.

The experience with Tainalis illustrates how LaPlaca views education: Schools and classes that reach students can merge imagination and opportunity. Education can transform lives.

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