Three graduating UB students share their stories of triumph as the big day nears

UB graduate Adrian Vega Bautista holding a sign that reads: "National First Generation College Celebration.".

Adrian Vega Bautista is the first member of his family to graduate high school and college.

Release Date: May 14, 2020

“My dream was to be somewhere I could study, somewhere that’s peaceful, and not worry about being killed. ”
Abbas Hossainy
BS, structural engineering

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With virtual commencement exercises ramping up this weekend at the University at Buffalo, heartstring-pulling stories abound.

Three graduating students spotlighted below have shared their stories of triumph in the hopes of inspiring others.

Members of the media are welcome to interview the graduates highlighted below. Press arrangements can be made by contacting David Hill in UB’s Office of University Communications.

A first-generation success story

Adrian Vega Bautista’s journey toward obtaining a master’s degree in higher education administration from UB has not been easy.

But he hopes that his story of overcoming mental health, family and financial challenges inspires his two younger brothers — one of whom is completing his associate’s degree; the other will soon graduate high school — to achieve what he will when he participates in the UB Graduate School of Education’s virtual commencement Friday morning.

“It feels like a big accomplishment, not only for myself, but for my whole family,” says Vega Bautista, who was the first in his family to ‘ graduate high school — both his parents went no further than ninth grade.

“I hope to help my younger brothers see what they can potentially do in the future. I want to show them that it can be done,” he says.

Born in Mexico, Vega Bautista immigrated with his family to the U.S., residing briefly in California before relocating to Dunkirk, New York, when Vega Bautista was 7 0r 8. As a child, Vega Bautista worked alongside his parents, who are agricultural workers, on weekends and during summers. He continued working in high school to help his parents with rent and other bills.

He received his bachelor’s degree in Spanish and literature from SUNY Oneonta.

Leaving home to attend college five hours away in Oneonta was difficult for the family-oriented Vega Bautista. His father has been the sole income provider ever since Vega Bautista’s mother was injured on the job and had to endure two major surgeries.

Vega Bautista leaned on the support of his classmates and professors in the Graduate School of Education to endure the challenges he’s faced. Among them were Nathan Daun-Barnett, an associate professor of higher education administration at UB, who helped Vega Bautista obtain a graduate assistantship so he could pay rent.

“Trying to focus in school but at the same time making sure that my parents were OK really took a toll on me mentally and academically because I was always thinking of them,” he says.

In addition, three of Vega Bautista’s grandparents passed away over the past few years. Last weekend, Vega Bautista sat and talked with his family, reflecting on his journey.

“It’s really been one of the toughest things, dealing with mental health issues, family deaths, life. But knowing that I can now help my parents and my family out after finishing this degree, I’m so thankful for the support I received,” he says.

Vega Bautista accepted a summer position with UB’s Educational Opportunity Program.

Afterward, he plans to seek full-time employment in higher education, where he hopes to develop programming for multicultural initiatives and assist students of color, showing them that, despite all the obstacles they may face, they can overcome, just as he did.

From Afghan interpreter to earthquake engineer

Abbas Hossainy wearing a hard hat.

Abbas Hossainy taught himself English and served as an interpreter for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Abbas Hossainy never gave up.

Not in war-torn Afghanistan, where his formal schooling ended at sixth grade. Not in Iran, where as a 14-year-old, he worked in a factory to support his family. Not back in Afghanistan, where he returned in his late teens, taught himself English and served as an interpreter for U.S. soldiers in some of the country’s most dangerous places.

And not in Buffalo, where he arrived in 2014 to start a new life. His path eventually led to UB, where he will receive a bachelor’s degree in structural engineering this Saturday.

“My dream was to be somewhere I could study, somewhere that’s peaceful, and not worry about being killed. Thankfully, that’s what happened,” says Hossainy, who lives in North Tonawanda with his wife and two daughters. “I’m literally living my dream right now.”

It hasn’t been easy. Upon arriving in the Queen City, Hossainy learned he needed a high school diploma to attend college. He figured it might take three years to earn a GED. It took him less than one.

He then attended community college at SUNY Erie while working full-time as a cook. He sent money home to Afghanistan so his family could join him. Upon earning his associates degree, he set his sights on UB.

“When I arrived at UB, I felt at home, like it was family. Everyone was trying to help me,” says Hossainy, who counts Igor Jankovic and Andrew Whittaker, both faculty members in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, as mentors.

At UB, Hossainy found encouragement and financial backing from the Felix Smist Scholarship, which helps cover tuition and fees for full-time engineering students who are raising families.

Even with this support, Hossainy still works nights and weekends driving for ridesharing apps and delivering food. He plans to attend graduate school at UB this fall, with the goal of earning a master’s degree in earthquake engineering.

“Looking back, I can’t believe how far I’ve come,” he says.

A cancer survivor driven to help others as a nurse

Abigail Foederer holding her honor society certificate.

Abigail Foederer is an adolescent cancer survivor who finds empowerment in caring for patients.

Abigail Foederer didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life, beyond not working in health care. Then she came back from a chest scan a week before her sophomore year at college, and woke up from a nap to hear her mother tell her the news:

Tests at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center showed she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

That was eight years ago. On Friday, she celebrates her Doctorate of Nursing Practice/Family Nurse Practitioner degree during UB’s School of Nursing virtual commencement — with her parents, husband, younger brother and dog — wearing a fancy hat a friend bought her.

Then her husband will make her his famous waffles.

Foederer is another UB nursing student driven to help others. She also has been cancer-free for three years. She knows what it is like to have a nurse nearby when she really needed it, and somewhere through the ordeal, she decided to become a nurse.

“I just wanted to be there for people who were sick the way the Roswell nurses took care of me,” says Foederer, 26, a Nardin Academy graduate and Hamburg resident.

“It’s such a powerful connection between a nurse and patient at her all-time low. I wanted to be part of that process,” she says. “I had this small experience of pediatric cancer. A lot of kids don’t survive, and I wanted to make a difference.”

Pamela Paplham, assistant dean for MS/DNP Programs and Foederer’s DNP project adviser, called Foederer “truly an amazing young woman who has turned a personal life crisis into a dedication for helping others.”

“As a teenage cancer survivor, Abigail’s DNP project was passionately directed towards enhancing the transition of this specialty population to primary care providers by assessing barriers and needs among survivorship care clinic coordinators,” says Paplham.

Foederer worked as a nurse throughout her UB classes, first at Sisters of Charity Hospital and then at Pediatric and Adolescent Urgent Care of Western New York. She will study for her boards and then look for a job.

She shares her adolescent cancer experience for her “toughest situations.” More often, her personal history helps her be compassionate and empathize with her patients.

“It empowers me to care for them, just knowing my experience and how well the nurses treated me,” she says. “You never go back to normal, but you can make a bigger impact because of what you have gone through. That’s what I’ve been trying to do these past eight years.”

Media Contact Information

David J. Hill
Director of News Content
Public Health, Architecture, Urban and Regional Planning, Sustainability
Tel: 716-645-4651