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Buffalo, Southern Tier serve as learning lab for UB’s prosperity fellows

Author: Charlotte Hsu

When UB students are selected to join the Western New York Prosperity Fellowship program, they must demonstrate a commitment to the area, promising to work here for at least two years within 10 years of graduation.

A seminar last week helped these students develop a deep understanding of the region, turning Buffalo and the Southern Tier into a learning lab.

Through the course, the students got behind-the-scenes tours of Integer (formerly Greatbatch), one of the area’s best-known high-tech companies, and Circuit Clinical, a Buffalo startup. They lunched with leaders of three sustainable companies — Solar Liberty, Blue Sky Design Supply and Shared Mobility — in UB’s new downtown medical school building. They met UB President Satish K. Tripathi and A. Scott Weber, vice president for student life, at a reception at Oscar’s Bed and Breakfast, a small business on Linwood Avenue in Buffalo.

They spent an entire day in the Southern Tier, touring Jamestown’s new National Comedy Center and hearing about economic development from a panel of local experts at the Fredonia Technology Incubator.

These events were among dozens the students attended during the week.

“When these students become prosperity fellows, they promise to contribute to the economic development and sustainability of Western New York,” says Hadar Borden, director of the fellowship program and of the Blackstone LaunchPad at UB, which supports fellows through programs that cultivate entrepreneurship at UB. “Our hope is that these students will become leaders in our community, and to do that they need to have an understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the region.”

The WNY Prosperity Fellows get a behind-the-scene tour of Circuit Clinical, a Buffalo startup that aims to make it easier for patients to enroll in and stay in clinical trials. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

Funded by the Prentice Family Foundation, the WNY Prosperity Fellowship program supports students who are committed to the region’s economic vitality by awarding each fellow up to $25,000 in scholarship and internship support for an academic year. This year’s class includes 25 fellows.

Alumni of the program who are now employed in Western New York helped to plan the seminar. These included Nathan Aldrich, a community economic development specialist with the Northern Chautauqua Local Economic Development Initiative; Kari Anastasia, a product development engineer with Integer; Enjoli Hall, a planner with the UB Regional Institute; and Ryan Hubbell, a budget analyst with Circuit Clinical.

In addition to touring sites downtown, the seminar brought fellows into Buffalo’s neighborhoods.

On Thursday, the students attended a panel on diversity and inclusion at the Colored Musicians Club and visited the Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor, including the Nash House Museum and Michigan Street Baptist Church — an Underground Railroad station.

WNY Prosperity Fellows observe a panel discussion on economic development issues with local experts at the Fredonia Technology Incubator. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

On Friday, the fellows visited the University District, home to UB’s South Campus. They spent the morning learning about the community at the University Heights Tool Library, an innovative tool-lending library founded by UB urban planning alumnus Darren Cotton, and then participated in a “startup simulation” in which they developed business concepts for vacant storefronts in the neighborhood.

Fellows at Parkside Candy. Image by Nancy J. Parisi

That day, over lunch at Parkside Candy, a classic candy shop and ice cream parlor that recently underwent a restoration, students reflected on the week’s activities.

Danielle Vazquez, an MBA/MPH student from Long Island who is also a health care management fellow at Roswell Park, enjoyed learning more about the region’s life sciences sector and hearing from UB’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center) about how businesses can make facilities and operations accessible to people of different cultures, backgrounds and physical abilities.

Though she’s not from the area, she’s committed to the region. “I’m interested in taking on a leadership role in health care, and I saw the revitalization of Western New York as an opportunity to be a leader in the community,” she said.

It’s exciting to hear about everything going on from so many different perspectives. The fellowship, more so than my classes or living in the area, has been eye-opening in that regard.

Madeleine Dewey, a senior in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, said the seminar opened her eyes to all the change occurring in the region. She’s a native of Western New York, with family roots in Alfred.

What’s striking about the WNY Prosperity Fellowship program is the chance to hear about the region directly from the people are working to move it forward, she says. “It’s exciting to hear about everything going on from so many different perspectives. The fellowship, more so than my classes or living in the area, has been eye-opening in that regard.”

Lead image: The Western New York Prosperity Fellows pose for a picture. Photo: Nancy J. Parisi

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