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Alums Burkhart, Waziak helping to build ECC’s future

Article by: Michael Farrell

SUNY Erie Community College boasts more than 70,000 alums in the Buffalo Niagara region. Many have had an impact on the college since their graduation, and more are vocal advocates for ECC’s benefits for students looking to start or restart a career-focused education.

But in the case of alums Frank Burkhart ‘84 and Al Waziak ‘97, they’re helping to build the college’s academic future with the hands-on training they acquired at ECC.  

For Burkhart, the Business Administration grad and Riverside native operates Advanced Architecture, whose design work produced ECC’s recently opened Center for Nanotechnology Studies at North Campus. The $5.75 million energy-efficient building—officially opened for the Spring 2017 semester—was conceived in partnership with industry experts at Penn State University, and now houses the college’s Nanotechnology AAS degree program. The space ushered forth by Burkhart’s company is now preparing students for career opportunities in burgeoning Western New York fields such as semiconductor manufacturing, biotechnology and environmental science, working within exciting local developments like the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, SolarCity/Panasonic’s massive RiverBend site and the WNY Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park.

“Buffalo and Western New York are on the precipice of finally turning the page on our Rust Belt economy,” said Burkhart, who earned a B.S. in Architecture from University at Buffalo after his time at ECC. “Having a high-tech program like Nanotechnology in our community college says a lot about where Western New York is going, and a lot more about where ECC is going.”

The Center for Nanotechnology Studies provides approximately 6,100 square feet of new learning space; $1.5 million in fabrication and characterization equipment; network capabilities through the Remote Access Instruments for Nanotechnology (RAIN) network to collaborate training with students across the country; and New York State’s only community college-hosted clean room for manipulating particles within an advanced manufacturing process. It’s a tremendous asset for both the college and its nearby communities. But for Burkhart, his path to involvement in such a project was ultimately enabled by his time at ECC.

“What stands out from my time at ECC was, as I advanced with my education, I became more confident that I could get good grades at the college level,” said Burkhart. “It gave me the confidence that I can succeed, and it ultimately steered me toward my architecture degree.”

The same is true for Waziak. The Buffalo native earned his A.A.S. in Civil Engineering from ECC. Balancing classes with a full-time gig in the construction industry, the now senior project manager for Turner Construction credits his community college education for putting him on his current career path.

“This is what changed my life,” said Waziak, who now lives in Auburn. “Since I already had the benefit of knowing construction, I was immediately convinced that ECC would provide the appropriate education for me. The courses provided the correct amount of theoretical basis, but most importantly, the instructors had experience in the industry. They were able to provide real life experiences and correlations to what happens in real life situations. There is nothing more valuable than to understand how what is being taught to you today will relate to what you do in the future.”

Thankfully, this future includes Waziak’s work on ECC’s forthcoming STEM Academic Center, scheduled to open in Spring of 2018. The $30 million state-, county- and college-funded project will provide approximately 57,000 square feet of new facility space for labs, prep rooms and support spaces for ECC programs focused on science, technology, engineering, and math, as well as shared instructional spaces, collaborative study spaces, a tutoring center and faculty offices. More than half of ECC's programs leading to an associate degree are in STEM fields, allowing the state-of-the-art facility to both accommodate students and aid a variety of growing Western New York employment fields.

“I believe that this project does not only contribute to my alma mater, but creates the focal point of the campus that will provide opportunities for the students,” said Waziak, one of multiple ECC alums with either Turner or Kideney Architects on the STEM development. “The college is being proactive in its approach for the future by continuing to grow with a technological outlook.”

This industry focus will allow the new building to house students eager to a job market due to lose 20 percent of its Baby Boomer-aged workforce in the coming years; and allow the college to be more competitive for prospective students looking for career training in fields determined as projected economic growth sectors by the New York Department of Labor. According to Waziak, the project is another example of Turner Construction supporting technological advancement and, in a larger sense, the advancement of the Buffalo Niagara region. But for the ECC alum, it’s another example of how his community college education set his current successful trajectory in motion.

“The long story short is that due to my education from ECC, I [gained] the opportunity to get a job with a national and international leading company and progress to a management level,” said Waziak. “There is no doubt that the quality of education that I received at ECC has contributed to my advancement. Every day, I have used the teachings in dealing with my construction projects.”

Both Burkhart and Waziak are shining examples of how alums are using their career-oriented education to have a tangible impact on their alma mater. It is full-circle contribution at its finest. And with their involvement in spearheading two major North Campus projects, their work will have a tremendous effect on the direction of ECC, its students—and the communities both impact.

“My hope is that the Nanotechnology project, combined with the STEM project, will be cornerstones on which the college can build an educational program that’s not simply an extension of a high school education,” said Burkhart, “but a jumping-off point for students who want to go on to more intensive studies that can take them anywhere they want to go.”

Since 1946, Erie Community College has met the needs of a diverse student body while contributing to the economic vitality of Western New York. As a member of the state’s SUNY system, the three-campus college provides flexible, affordable and accessible educational programs in an accommodating academic environment. Equipped with the knowledge of these programs, ECC’s faculty, staff and students strive to enrich their host communities through skill, service and partnership. For more information, visit or call (716) 851-1ECC.  


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