Running by design

Architecture student Samantha Vetter hits her stride in the studio and on the track with support from former student-athlete Dean Robert Shibley

Dean Shibley and student Sam Vetter stand next to each other in front of Hayes Hall.

Dean Shibley and architecture student Samantha Vetter have developed a supportive mentoring relationship around their shared interest in track and field.

by Shreya Jaiswal

Published March 25, 2022


When Samnatha Vetter came to UB nearly four years ago to study architecture, she was prepared to let go of her dream to run competitively at the college level. It was too much, many said – the rigor of architecture school on top of college athletics.

Then she met Dean Robert G. Shibley. A former architecture student-track athlete himself, Shibley urged her to give it a try.

“Don’t let anyone tell you what can or cannot do; try it yourself,” he recalls telling Vetter during her campus visit. “The only competitor you have is yourself – run hard, study hard, beat your last time and improve on your scholarship.”

Today, the senior student-athlete says the mentorship and support of Shibley – along with a good amount of focus, discipline and self-care – has helped her hit her stride, in the studio and on the track. Running competitively since the 8th grade, Vetter balances academics and athletics year-round at UB, running the one-mile as well as relay events for UB’s Track and Field team in the winter and spring, months, and hitting the open field in the fall for UB’s Cross Country squad.

Shibley, who earned a scholarship to run track and field at the University of Oregon, maintained a similar balance during his days as an undergraduate student in the late 1960s. His race was the quarter-mile sprint, which he trained for year-round all while managing a double major in architecture and psychology.

Vetter says athletics have only made her more resilient and focused in both realms. “It’s all about time management, between sport and academics. Pursuing athletics and architecture together is a good way of proving that you are passionate about both equally.”

But it hasn’t always been easy – and the intensity of the student-athlete balancing act can be a struggle.

Vetter says Shibley’s mentorship over the past four years has provided motivation to push through the challenges. “Just knowing someone who went through something similar, and that they are open to sharing their experience. I feel lucky to have had Dean Shibley to guide me along the way.”

“Don’t let anyone tell you what can or cannot do; try it yourself. The only competitor you have is yourself – run hard, study hard, beat your last time and improve on your scholarship.”

- Dean Robert G. Shibley

Shibley recalls navigating the same struggles – the exhaustion and the mental battles of mind-over-body. Ultimately, however, his academic and athletic pursuits complemented each other.

“Running kept me physically and mentally healthy – I ate well, slept eight hours and didn’t smoke or drink,” said Shibley, whose typical day started with a five-mile run, then classes and studio until 5 pm, followed by an evening workout.

“It wasn’t easy, but it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it,” he said.

In fact, some of his best design thinking came during runs.

“Those were hard days, but when you are in top shape it gives you energy and clarity of thought. That kind of mental discipline clears your head and invites engagement in academic life in a different way,” he said, adding that running helped him develop a sense of scale and distance in the built environment – critical skills for an architect and urban designer.

Vetter says she also finds her flow between the track and the studio, noting that the exhilaration of a hard run translates into design inspiration. “That kind of commitment betters yourself. It has helped me find my passion for architecture,” she said.

As Vetter approaches graduation this spring, she is exploring graduate school in architecture. While she’ll likely see the end of her career in collegiate athletics, she has no plans to stop running.

For those students hoping to combine athletics and architecture, Shibley’s advice is simple: “Follow your bliss. If something is important to you, follow it with all your heart, and you may succeed. Succeed or not, make choices that are true to yourself.”