CANCELLED: Sydney Gross Alumni Symposium 2020

The inaugural Sydney Gross Alumni Symposium was held in spring 2019 and featured six young alumni leaders at work across our professions. Photo by Yifan He

Update on public programs: 3/12/2020

The health and safety of our community are our priority at the School of Architecture and Planning. Due to the rapidly evolving situation around COVID-19, the School of Architecture and Planning is cancelling its remaining spring 2020 public programs and events to mitigate the potential to exposure. We appreciate your understanding and apologize for the inconvenience.

*The 50th Anniversary Celebration, including our Sydney Gross Alumni Symposium, originally scheduled for April 1, 2020, will be rescheduled for Fall 2020. Stay tuned for updates!

The second annual Sydney Gross Alumni Symposium will bring together young professionals in emergent areas of practice in architecture, urban planning and real estate development. The symposium will explore innovative modes of practice both within and at the intersection of our disciplines.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020
1 pm - 5 pm
Hayes 403

Featuring distinguished alumni and emerging leaders across the professions

Ayla Abiad.

Ayla Abiad (MArch '12)

Architectural designer, AE7; founder, Build a Bridge (BAB) Foundation

Born and raised in Damascus, Syria, Ayla Abiad is an architectural designer at AE7, and the Founder & CEO of the Build a Bridge (BAB) Foundation.

Full bio

After completing her undergraduate studies in Aleppo, Ayla moved to the US in 2009 to earn her Master’s degree in Sustainable Architecture at the University at Buffalo. She worked as an adjunct professor at villa Maria collage and as a visualization specialist at the center of computational research. She began her architectural design career at Wendel where she worked for six years.  Her experience in the architectural design of healthcare and mixed used facilities has enabled her to be a key member on a variety of successful projects in Western New York.

Today, Ayla is one of the key members of the AE7 design team where she works on projects including large, international mixed-use developments, medical offices, and corporate tenant fit-outs. She is a leader in design and detailing, in addition to being actively engaged with existing clients and business development. 

In 2016, Ayla established BAB, a non-profit that connects refugee and new immigrant families with locals who can offer resources and support BAB is a not-for-profit organization that assists refugees and immigrants in becoming independent, informed, and contributing members of the community. Its goal is to make immigrants’ transition to life in the US as seamless as possible, while challenging communities’ pre-conceived notions about refugees and immigrants.

Mark Byrnes.

Mark Byrnes (BAED '10)

Writer, SOM

Mark Byrnes is an editor at the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM). He was previously with CityLab from its launch in 2011 until 2019.

Full bio

While at CityLab, he helped shape the site’s design coverage, writing and commissioning stories that shed light on the designers and policy makers behind the creation, preservation, and destruction of North America’s built environment. The most notable examples include his own work on imperiled postwar architecture in the Northeast U.S.—particularly the civic buildings and mass housing by Paul Rudolph—and editorial packages centered around how cities look today as a result of world-shifting events including the dissolution of the Bauhaus, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and resurgence of the American conservative movement in the ‘80s. Other design topics he helped make part of the site’s repertoire include the visual identities of mass transit systems and as the role of public art in urban renewal. He also helped develop the site’s editorial art direction from 2011 through 2017, collaborating with staff writers in order to develop story illustrations, create infographics, and edit photos.

At SOM, he helps the nearly 90-year-old firm craft an editorial vision around its storied past and active present through digital publishing platforms, social media, and traditional print. Digging through their archives and interviewing architects has so far resulted in content that adds context to historic projects, highlights the ideas of deceased partners, features contemporary works, and reveals key individuals behind the current version of the global (and often anonymous) collective. 

Reflections on UB

My time at the School of Architecture and Planning helped me make sense of the many forces behind the fate of today’s cities, from global economic trends fueling regional-level growth to federal and local policies that exacerbate neighborhood-level housing segregation and health outcomes. By complementing my undergrad course load with digital art and art history classes, I have been able to effectively present my ideas and research about the built environment through words and images in my professional work ever since.

F. Jason Campbell.

F. Jason Campbell (BS Arch '11)

Creative director, [ELL], project architect, Smithgroup

F. Jason Campbell is also a lecturer at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design, teaching core and advanced option studios in the undergraduate and graduate division.

Full bio

His work, while defined as a transdisciplinary practice, spans several disciplines, including architecture, photography, exhibition design and curatorial work. His projects range in scale, from the body to urban situations, and leverages alternative methods of practices to address questions on how we claim, make, and keep spaces; and the spatial properties and actions required to do so.

Jason is the Creative Director and founder of the San Francisco-based project space, ELL, an art and architecture collective, interested in working across media and discipline, forged at the intersection of architectural discourse and art performance. Recent projects include collaborations with Perspecta50: Urban Divides, and Oakland-based Tajai Massey of Hieroglyphics. In tandem, Jason is a lead designer with Smithgroup in the Higher Education Discipline, leading projects for Apple, City College of San Francisco, and San Francisco State University. The coordination of various practices has relied on continual intensive questioning and divergent investigations on territory.

Prior to practicing with Smithgroup, Jason was a designer with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson in San Francisco. He received an M.Arch from UC Berkeley College of Design and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning.

Reflections on UB

UB made it very clear that we had agency in the built environment. Our ideas were not mere abstractions, and we were given the tools and confidence to realize them.

Jason Campbell participates in reviews at the UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design.

Jason Campbell participates in reviews at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design.

Margaret Cowell.

Margaret Cowell (MUP '04)

Associate professor of urban affairs, Virginia Tech

Margaret (Maggie) Cowell, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech where she teaches courses on economic development, urban economics, and public policy. 

Full bio

Dr. Cowell previously worked as a Regional Economist for the Buffalo Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and was also a member of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation-funded research project, “Building Resilient Regions.” She is currently a co-PI for Virginia Tech’s National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) program on Disaster Resilience and Risk Management. She is the author of Dealing with Deindustrialization: Adaptive Resilience in American Midwestern Regions (Routledge 2014) and has published numerous peer-reviewed articles focused on economic resilience, economic restructuring, and economic development. Her most recent work examines entrepreneurs and small businesses in the neighborhoods most likely to be impacted by the Amazon HQ2 and Virginia Tech’s $1B Innovation Campus developments in Northern Virginia. She is also presently working on a co-edited book about the ties that bind Virginians across the urban-rural spectrum. Dr. Cowell’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Kauffman Foundation, National Association of Counties, and the United States Economic Development Administration. She holds a Ph.D in City and Regional Planning from Cornell University, Master of Urban Planning from SUNY Buffalo, and B.A. in Urban Studies from Brown University.

Reflections on UB

My time at UB had a profound effect on my career path. This is the place where I discovered my desire to join academia and to focus my scholarship on issues of economic resilience. It has now been 16 years since I graduated, but I still research and write about Buffalo and I do so using the tools I first acquired while studying at UB.

Rana Abu Ghazaleh (MUP '08)

Capital project manager, Alexandria, Va.

Rana Abu Ghazaleh is a capital project manager at the City of Alexandria and President of the International Planned Parenthood Federation's policy-making body, where she fights for social justice and equality for women.

Full bio

Rana’s passion for social justice and equality for women has led her to be elected the President of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in 2017, a volunteer position that allows her to lead the Federation’s policy-making body for the next three years. A Fulbright Scholar and a 40 under 40 Honoree, she holds a MSc in Urban Planning from the State University of New York at Buffalo, specializing in community and international/economic development. Abu Ghazaleh’s understanding of the intricacies of urban forces, and passion for women and social complexities show how there are countless ways to follow a passion and utilize the urban planning skills and knowledge to serve the world. Aside from her volunteer work, Rana led various high visibility projects within the City, like the City’s Strategic Facility Plan, the Witter Wheeler Master Plan Project and the acceptance of SNAP (food stamps) Electronic Benefits Cards (EBT) at the Farmer’s Market and dollar matching program, which lead to her being featured as one of the “Fifty under 50 Innovative leaders transforming metro DC’s food system”. Rana is a published author and keynote speaker at several global platforms on international development and urban planning issues.

My experience at UB has taught me that urban planning is a multidisciplinary field that allows examining issues from a multitude of angles to reach the most suitable solution that fits the community needs and strives for its wellbeing, and hopefully, that of the whole world. UB allowed me to specialize in both community and international/economic development, thus allowing me to seamlessly move between the micro and the macro levels when examining a planning or a development issue.

Rana Abu Ghazaleh at a convening of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, where she serves as president.

Rana Abu Ghazaleh at a convening of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, where she serves as president.

Shawntera Hardy.

Shawntera Hardy (MUP '04)

Co-founder, Civic Eagle 

Shawntera M. Hardy is an award winning policy professional and serial entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience leading work in areas including government affairs, healthcare access, economic development and international relations. 

Full bio

Shawntera’s current leadership work includes: founder of PolicyGrounds Consulting, a strategic management firm working at the intersection of public policy development, organizational effectiveness, and economic development; the cofounder and chief strategy officer for Civic Eagle, a tech company building policy intelligence software that automates state and federal legislative tracking; and the cofounder of Fearless Commerce, a publication and platform focused on elevating Black women business owners. 

Prior to going full-time in her business ventures, Shawntera was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton as Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) where she led a team of 1300 public servants and total annual budget of $1.6 billion and spearheaded the state’s investment in inclusive economic growth and operational excellence. Additional past leadership roles include: deputy chief of staff for Governor Dayton; policy director for FreshEnergy; government relations manager for HealthPartners; and city planner for the City of Saint Paul. Shawntera has a strong commitment to community. She’s currently a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis community advisory committee; Minnesota Public Radio board of trustees; Great North Labs advisor; and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. To ensure access to educational opportunities, she co-founded and co-directs the Fatima Kinshasa Memorial Fund and the Pioneer Scholars Award, both at The Ohio State University. 

Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Shawntera holds a Bachelor of Science in Consumer Affairs from The Ohio State University, and a Master of Urban and Regional Planning frm UB. 

Reflections on UB

I left the School of Architecture and Planning with a deeper appreciation of the power of people in placemaking, both the seen and unseen. I work every day knowing that the future is for those that design the policies and processes that govern them.

Shawntera Hardy and her collaborators at a recent event for Fearless Commerce, an organization she founded to elevate Black Women-owned businesses.

Shawntera Hardy and her collaborators at a recent event for Fearless Commerce, an organization she founded to elevate Black Women-owned businesses. 

David Heaton.

David Heaton (MArch'17, BS Arch '14)

Associate, Studio Daniel Libeskind 

Since joining the Studio Libeskind in 2017, David has been involved in a wide range of projects including the Ngaren science museum in Africa and a large-scale office complex in Sydney.

Full bio

Other major projects include a mixed-use complex in Bremen, Germany, and the National Pulse Memorial competition in Orlando. He is currently working on Maggie’s Centre in London and an international exhibition in Moscow.

Prior to joining the studio, David has won or placed in multiple architectural competitions and has designed and built several pavilions and interactive installations, including one for the UNESCO City of Light Festival in Jena, Germany. A recent pavilion, Inside, Outside & In-between, was designed, constructed and exhibited as part of the Seoul Biennale.

David earned his Bachelor’s of Science degree from the University at Buffalo graduating summa cum laude. He continued on at the university to receive his M.Arch and was awarded the King Student Medal for Best Thesis.  He also received a Master’s of Science in Media Architecture from the Bauhaus-Universität Weimar.

Reflections on UB

The design-build experiences along with the ability to work closely with faculty in and out of the classroom really helped shape the way I approach design problems.  The spirit of making and the attitude of diving into problems head first and figuring out things by building them has really resonated with me since leaving the university setting.

David Heaton consults with Daniel Libeskind at Studio Libeskind.

David Heaton consults with Daniel Libeskind at Studio Libeskind.

James Kubiniec.

James Kubiniec (BS Arch '14)

Architectural designer, Gehry Partners

James is a designer born in Buffalo, New York. Currently he is based in Los Angeles, California where he is a Junior Architect at Gehry Partners, LLP.

Full bio

In 2017 James was awarded the Frank and Berta Gehry Prize for best graduate thesis at SCIARC. He has taught architectural design courses ranging in level at multiple institutions in California such as SCIARC and the ICALA, as well as internationally renowned institutions and universities in multiple cities across China. 

Alexandra Lima.

Alexandra Lima (BS Arch '12)

Architect, COOKFOX Architects

Alexandra Lima is an architect at COOKFOX Architects, where she has worked on high-end residential and office projects. 

Full bio

She is currently working on the adaptive reuse of St. John’s Terminal in Manhattan, which is set to become the center of Google’s new Hudson Square campus in New York City. The 1.3 million square foot project includes 9 stories and 700,000 square feet of new construction on top of the original 1934 structure, which was formerly the terminus of the elevated freight railroad now known as the High Line. COOKFOX is dedicated to environmentally responsive design, studying and responding to the environmental, cultural, and historical context of each project. The studio’s emphasis on biophilic design can be seen in the landscaped gardens, terraces, and walking paths of St. John’s Terminal that provide a direct connection to nature.

Prior to joining COOKFOX, Lima worked on a number of high-end retail and residential projects around the world. Alexandra holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University at Buffalo, and a Master of Architecture from Cornell University. She is originally from Buffalo and currently resides in Brooklyn, and is the 2018 and 2019 Burrito Bowl champion.

Reflections on UB

My time at UB taught me the importance of context and constraints, how to work within them and when to push beyond them. I’ve always valued the way our projects were grounded in reality but could still be playful and imaginative.

Alexandra Lima on site at St. John’s Terminal in Manhattan, which is set to redeveloped as the center of Google’s new Hudson Square campus in New York City.

Alexandra Lima on site at St. John’s Terminal in Manhattan, which is set to redeveloped as the center of Google’s new Hudson Square campus in New York City. 

Nicole Marple.

Nicole Marple (BS Arch '10)

Architect, Thomas Phifer and Partners

Nicole Marple is a Registered Architect in the state of NY, currently working at Thomas Phifer and Partners. Since joining the firm in 2015, she has built a portfolio of residential, cultural and commercial projects. 

Full bio

Nicole is currently working on a residential project in NY set to start construction in the spring. Some of her previous projects include, CINE Colombia Headquarters in Bogotá, Colombia, a private residence in upstate NY, and a cultural and residential project in Dallas. All of these projects are currently under construction. 
Prior to joining Thomas Phifer and Partners, Nicole worked as a designer at Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in New York on varied projects including the World Financial Center in New York and Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, California. 
She holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from The State University of New York at Buffalo, and a Master of Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design where she was both an American Institute of Architects Henry Adams Gold Medalist and Thesis Design Award recipient.  Immediately following her degree at the Rhode Island School of Design, she traveled through Hungry, Serbia and Romania on a research travel grant. 

Reflections on UB

UB presented me with a solid foundation in the practice of architecture by allowing me to work directly with building materials, build my technical expertise, and most importantly develop the ability think critically. 

The workspace of Thomas Phifer and Partners in New York.

Nicole (second from left) at work in the offices of Thomas Phifer and Partners in New York.

Andrew Perkins.

Andrew Perkins (MArch '12, BS Arch '10)

Project manager, UAP Company

Andrew obtained a Master’s of Architecture at the University at Buffalo, where he took interest in architecture and urbanism in moments of material scarcity, political tension, and natural calamity. 

Full bio

His thesis work, which involved purchasing and living in a derelict $800 house, sought opportunity in places others had dismissed or neglected. The project began by observing the breach between architectural practice and the actualities of the post-industrial city of Buffalo. Why is there homelessness in a city full of vacant buildings? Can and should ethics surmount legal restraints? How can the discards of a modern society mingle with the forgotten structures of a past era? What role may the architect play in coordinating these socioeconomic tensions with the built environment?

He’s continued to put particular energy into struggling cities: from the American Rustbelt to East Africa. In the process, he’s worked in public art production in Flint, Michigan’s most neglected neighborhoods; adaptive reuse of post-industrial buildings in Baltimore, Maryland; radically sustainable building design in Taos, New Mexico; and growing a design-build start-up in Nairobi, Kenya.

Expanding into the parallel fields of construction, politics, and development, he’s continuously seeking to move beyond human-centered architecture, into habitat-centric thinking where ethics is the foundation for all else.

Reflections on UB

I wasn't taught what to think at UB, but what questions to ask. With the critical thinking skills I gained - and some perseverance - I've been able to work across fields and bend the rules of architecture.

Andrew on a job site in Zambia, putting the roof trusses onto a school he designed and built with Orkidstudio: an architecture and construction company promoting inclusion and creativity for spaces in education, health, and housing.

Andrew on a job site in Zambia, putting the roof trusses onto a school he designed and built with Orkidstudio: an architecture and construction company promoting inclusion and creativity for spaces in education, health, and housing.

Joey Swerdlin.

Joey Swerdlin (BS Arch '13)

Community director, The Morpholio Project

Joey Swerdlin is in pursuit of architectural happiness. He is a Co-Founder of Group Project, an architecture and urban planning collaborative that works with socially-minded nonprofits to transform vacant buildings into productive spaces for their communities.

Full bio

Joey is a Co-Founder of Group Project (link:, an architecture and urban planning collaborative that works with socially-minded nonprofits to transform vacant buildings into productive spaces for their communities. He is also the Community Director of The Morpholio Project (link: where he manages brand identity, social media strategy, and app support for a suite of apps that connect digital and analog methods of designing.

Joey studied architecture at the University at Buffalo and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked at a range of architectural practices including Storefront for Art and Architecture, Ants of the Prairie/Joyce Hwang, CLOG, OFFICE Kersten Geers David van Severen, Richard Meier and Partners, The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, and WOJR: Organization for Architecture.

Reflections on UB

The two words that come to mind when I think of the impact that Buffalo has had on my practice today is rigor and making. My mentors at UB inspired me to put passion behind everything that I work on and to never leave an idea in my head because of the process of translating a thought into physical form is an unexpected and delightful process.

Sydney Gross Memorial Fund

This symposium is supported by the Sydney Gross Memorial Fund in honor of former UB architecture student Sydney Gross. Learn more

Symposium Organizers

The 2020 Sydney Gross Symposium is organized by Christopher Romano and Joyce Hwang with Samina Raja.