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Stony Brook University

Anil Yazici, center, with Eren Ozguven, right, and Ayberk Kocatepe, left, who worked in Ozguven’s lab as a doctoral student, at a conference in Florida last year.Photo from Anil Yazici

By Daniel Dunaief

Anil Yazici wants to help the elderly population with transportation, public safety and emergency services and housing.

An assistant professor in civil engineering at Stony Brook University, Yazici is organizing a series of meetings to address the needs of the elderly. He is recruiting a host of speakers from around the world and is inviting the public to listen and participate in roundtable discussions for a two-day event at the Hilton Garden Inn at Stony Brook as a part of a Research Coordination Network.

The workshop schedule with a list of speakers will be available around mid-March. Those interested in attending can visit the website https://you.stonybrook/edu/agingpopulationrcn/events/rcn-workshops/.

Yazici received a $499,999 four-year grant from the National Science Foundation last fall to develop a way to study the connection between smart and connected communities and areas with varying resources and population densities. The group will host workshops at the University of Michigan and at Florida State University.

Anil Yazici, right, with Harold Walker, left, a professor and chair in the Department of Civil Engineering and Laura Coronel, center, a member of the class of 2017.Photo by Erin Giuliano

The goal is to maintain mobility and access to services for the aging population. “Our focus is to involve aging populations within smart and connected communities … which generally employ technology to address mobility and access,” he explained in an email.

Yazici would like to get the government, communities and researchers to work together to address these issues. Groups involved in the effort will produce white papers, which can provide a proposal to help governments and community organizations plan various services.

Jacqueline Mondros, the dean of SBU’s School of Social Welfare and assistant vice president for Social Determinants of Health, described housing and transportation as “two of the most problematic issues of older adults, particularly in suburbia and rural areas.”

Mondros, who will be giving one of the talks in April, hopes the tech sector and engineering dedicate more attention to this area. She believes this effort will provide a greater understanding of the kind of connectedness that will help seniors and their caregivers. She also hopes the initiative helps people learn “about the intersection between connectivity and technology and social intervention.”

The funding for this effort is designed to create networks and develop ideas. Further work to develop projects, however, would require additional financial support.

Developing a broad plan in an area such as transportation will require flexible and location-specific solutions. Indeed, Long Island reflects such varying dynamics. Areas in or closer to the city have higher population density and a deeper transportation infrastructure, with subways, buses and trains offering transportation throughout the area. Further out east, however, the population density drops considerably, limiting such options.

“Once you don’t drive” when you’re in suburbia “it’s almost impossible to get around and go where you need to go,” Mondros said. People end up in “social isolation [which] clearly creates poor health outcomes and depression.”

Presenters will include people with expertise from Europe and Australia who can bring the solutions they have developed through smart and connected communities. Some locations have developed a system to help the aging population with routine transportation.

Anil Yazici after he went spearfishing for Mediterranean parrotfish in Turkey.Photo by Meliha Yazici

In one community, Yazici learned about a personal network in which people call each other to provide rides for regular travel, like weekly doctor or hospital visits. The network, which was organized through a church, involved calls to find rides through church members.

Eren Ozguven, who met Yazici in high school in Turkey and is a collaborator on the project, plans to do a presentation at Stony Brook on the challenges the aging population faces during hurricanes.

That includes a look at “how the technology usage is shaping this and how [to] provide better accessibility and safety during evacuations and sheltering,” Ozguven, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in Tallahasse, Florida, explained in an email. “We are hoping to have very fruitful brainstorming sessions with practitioners, researchers, students and the public.”

More broadly, Yazici’s work is focused on the resilience of various civil engineering systems, such as transportation.

Organizational networks require contact among all the various infrastructure agencies, he said. They need to keep in contact and make decisions through context. He is working on a way to measure resiliency, so that when storms break communication links and disrupt power grids, the agencies in charge of those systems can restore them to previous levels.

He would like to see how to make an agency’s response to a disruption more efficient. Resilience can be improved through developing sound models for a physical infrastructure response.

A resident of Harlem where he lived during his postdoctoral training, Yazici has had to create his own system to ensure a successful commute. He leaves early, before much of the reverse commuting traffic builds, and returns home late. Yazici, who has been at Stony Brook since the fall of 2014, said he appreciates the opportunity to contribute to a new and growing department.

Yazici moved eight times when he was younger, as the family followed his father Mesut, who was also a civil engineer, from projects including water treatment plants to industrial waste processing. His father tried to dissuade him from following in his footsteps. His academic position, however, doesn’t require Yazici to follow projects from one place to another.

Starting in his first year in college, Yazici played bass in a band. He performed mostly ’70s Turkish progressive rock. He enjoys making music and plans to start an ensemble with his students to have a live music event after graduation.

As for his work, Yazici appreciates the opportunity to study areas that cross disciplines and that help people. “What drives me and most of the academics I know is to make a difference in people’s lives,” he explained in an email. “This could be through teaching and seeing students evolve personally and professionally or researching a topic to solve a problem and improve someone’s life.”

Marchers made sure the #MeToo conversation continues on campus.

Student Aleeza Kazmi, one of the approximately 250 marchers at Stony Brook University Feb. 28, said the mission of the event was to show support for survivors of sexual assault and harassment, and to request the university increase preventative measures and provide more assistance for survivors.

Kazmi said it’s important for the university’s administration to respond to the requests, especially with Stony Brook being a HeForShe 10×10×10 IMPACT school. The university is one of 10 schools involved in the UN Women initiative, the United Nations gender equality entity that aims to engage men and boys to encourage the empowerment of women. The student said the university needs to do more for sexual abuse survivors.

“HeForShe is used as a shield and a title and a publicity move for President Stanley and the rest of the administration to say we are here with women, and we support feminism,” Kazmi said.

David Clark, vice president of the student organization Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, said when Kazmi came to the student organization with the idea, he agreed that it was needed on campus.

“She wanted to make sure the #MeToo movement was having a bigger conversation on campus,” Clark said. “And, she had some of her own concerns about Stony Brook, while being a HeForShe IMPACT school, not really talking much as far as official statements and events about #MeToo and sexual harassment.”

Before the march, Kazmi read a poem and statement from Arianna Rodriguez. In February, Rodriguez alleged that SBU swimming and diving coach Janelle Atkinson, who was dismissed from her position, emotionally abused members of the team.

“I challenge you to support your friends and fellow classmates who have been victims of sexual assaults and to help guide them back to normalcy,” Kazmi read from Rodriguez’s statement. “And, I challenge all the survivors of sexual assault to continue living normal lives. I know it’s hard at times, but no one is stronger than you are, and your strength will give you the power to live life to the fullest and persevere. No matter who tells you differently.”

Clark said he was pleased to see so many students and some faculty members, both females and males, in attendance.

“We were pretty certain that there were going to be people who were survivors there, whether they said it or not,” Clark said. “We wanted to make sure that they knew that the student body supports them and that they’re in an environment where they are believed and, whether or not they choose to report, that there’s support for survivors here at Stony Brook.”

FMLA also composed a letter that will be submitted to SBU administrators. At press time nearly 100 student groups and organizations, students, alumni, faculty members and community organizations have signed it.

Clark said among their requests, the signers asked in order to maintain the protections of survivors, that the university keep certain practices in place such as letting both parties appeal the rulings of sexual misconduct hearings and prohibiting cross examination between the accused and accuser during sexual misconduct hearings. Clark said members of FMLA are concerned after the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education made changes to Title IX. Among the rights of students it covers in the educational system, the federal civil rights law ensures students involved in sexual
assault and harassment cases are afforded certain protections.

In the letter the protesters also asked for the university to address the issue of Atkinson and the allegations made against her.

Kazmi, a journalism student in her junior year, said she and Clark met with Jeff Barnett, assistant dean of students, a few days before the rally, and with Cathrine Duffy, associate director of student support, March 2. Kazmi and Clark said they feel university administrators have been receptive to the students and their ideas.

“I feel optimistic that the university is going to be open to working with us,” Kazmi said. “I don’t think the university is against increasing awareness for survivors and preventing future sexual assaults.”

After the rally, LeManuel Lee Bitsóí, chief diversity officer at Stony Brook, released a statement supporting the students.

“It was great to see so many SBU community members participate in the #MeToo rally today,” Bitsóí said. “It illustrates the level of engagement by our students around social justice and equity issues and challenges that all of us face in society.  Our leadership team is inspired by the activism of student leaders and we collectively support them in their efforts.”

Kazmi, an abuse survivor, said the march was the first time she said, “Me too,” in public. She said at first she questioned why she was organizing and speaking at the event instead of just participating.

“After the march, I realized this is why I did this, because of how many people came and how many people messaged me privately and hugged me afterward and said thank you, because someone needed to do it,” Kazmi said. “And if it was me, and if it caused me some frustrations a couple of days before, that’s OK, because it was completely all worth it. And I’m so proud of every single person who came out and the part of the administration who is going to be working with us moving forward. Our voices are being heard on this campus.”

Post was updated March 6 to reflect additional comments from David Clark, Aleeza Kazmi and LeManuel Lee Bitsóí.

Sacha Kopp recently announced his resignation from Stony Brook University. Photo from the Stony Brook University website.

Sacha Kopp, Stony Brook University’s dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, sent a letter to SBU faculty members Feb. 26 announcing he would step down from the position.

Kopp did not cite his reasons for resigning, according to an article in The Statesman, the Stony Brook University student newspaper.

“I am mindful of the frustration felt over the substantial operating deficit we inherited and the additional significant cuts faced by the college during these last four years,” Kopp wrote, according to the newspaper. “I have shared your disappointment over this unfortunate reality and done my best to ensure that the college both meets its core obligations to its students and sustains and builds its program of excellence.”

Michael Bernstein, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs for Stony Brook University, said in a statement that Kopp will remain as dean until the end of the spring semester.

“A consummate gentleman and scholar, Sacha has led the college with dignity and respect,” Bernstein said.. “His energy, vision and leadership helped the college continue its pursuit of excellence in education, scholarship, art making and professional service.”

Bernstein credited the university’s 30 percent growth in African-American and Latino students in the freshman class and a 30 percent growth in the number of arts, humanities and social science majors in the freshman class to Kopp’s oversight in recent years. Bernstein also listed among Kopp’s accomplishments the recruitment of 50 new faculty members in key areas of instruction and research and increasing the number of endowed professorships in the college from one to nine.

The resignation comes in the midst of budget challenges at the university. Students and faculty members last year protested the plan to consolidate departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. Other changes included the suspension of admissions into the undergraduate degree programs in theater arts, comparative literature, cinema and cultural studies and into the graduate degree programs in cultural studies and comparative literature.

According to the SBU website, Kopp was the associate dean for undergraduate education of the College of Natural Sciences and a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin before coming to SBU in August 2014. During his time in Austin as a researcher, he studied the physics of elementary particles, and he is the author of more than 200 scholarly articles.

The university is currently searching for an interim dean, according to Bernstein’s statement.

Above, R.C. Murphy Junior High students Gregory Garra and Gianna Raftery with Catherine Markham in Dawn Nachtigall’s seventh-grade science class last year. Photo from Three Village school district

By Daniel Dunaief

A recent study of 57 species around the world, published in the journal Science, showed that mammals moved distances two to three times shorter in human-modified landscapes.

Catherine Markham, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University, contributed to this research, adding information about the ranges for baboons in the Amboseli Baboon Research Project in Kenya.

Marlee Tucker, an ecologist at the Senckenberg Nature Research Society based in Frankfurt, Germany, led the effort, which involved working with 114 other scientists who are studying mammals around the world. Tucker “brought together all these research groups on a scale and scope that had not been undertaken before,” Markham said. “She evaluated in an unprecedented way what the implications of human expansion and development are for wildlife movement.”

According to Tucker, a reduction in animal movement could have ecological implications. “It is likely that ecosystem functions such as nutrients and seed dispersal will be altered,” she explained in an email. “However, whether these impacts are negative, positive or neutral requires further research.”

Tucker suggested that it is “important to maintain landscape connectivity so that animals can move freely,” which could include the creation of corridors that link natural landscapes.

While the study made it clear in a comprehensive way that mammals tend to move less when humans interact with them, it didn’t offer specific indications about the causes of that reduction. Some of that, scientists say, could come from fear, as mammals may avoid humans. Alternatively, some mammals might find a new and concentrated food source at garbage dumps and elsewhere that would reduce the need to travel.

Susan Alberts, a professor of biology at Duke University and a collaborator with Markham on baboon research, said that the “take home message” is that “this is a pervasive phenomenon and occurs on a large scale in the mammalian world.”

Markham has been studying baboons in Kenya at the Amboseli site since 2004. When Tucker reached out to her to see if she could contribute to this work, Markham saw an opportunity to collaborate using information she was already gathering.

Above, baboons with a radio collar in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Photo by Catherine Markham

As it turns out, baboons in the research project in Kenya live in what Markham describes as a “relatively pristine area” so they did not see “over the time period an increase in the human footprint index.”

Markham shared information about 22 baboons for about 900 days as a part of this research. Tucker’s overarching conclusion included areas where people weren’t encroaching on a mammal’s range. “When she compared the movement of animals living in relatively pristine environments — like the baboons in Amboseli — to the movement of animals living in areas of higher human encroachment, that lead to exciting conclusions,” Markham said. Tucker indicated that future research should focus on exploring the underlying mechanism of the reduction in movement.

In the meantime, Markham is continuing her studies on baboons, exploring the energetic consequences of group size. Larger groups tend to beat out smaller groups when they are competing for food and water in a particular habitat. At the same time, however, those larger groups have stress levels caused by group competition, as one baboon might find the constant proximity and rivalry with another baboon stressful. Baboon group sizes range from a low of around 20 to a high of about 100. Markham is exploring the tension within and between groups.

Over the past few years, Markham, who has been studying this competitive dynamic extensively, has used noninvasive techniques, such as gathering fecal samples, to look for levels of thyroid hormones, which can indicate an animal’s energetic condition.

Alberts explained that Markham was an important contributor to the work at Amboseli, adding that Markham “asks questions at the group level that the rest of us don’t.”

Within the community, Markham has been involved in recent efforts to inspire middle school students at R.C. Murphy Junior High school in Stony Brook to enjoy and appreciate science, working closely with science teacher Dawn Nachtigall, who has been at Murphy for 20 years.

In her second year at Murphy, Markham visits seventh-grade classes several times, discussing her work and explaining how to analyze images from camera traps set up in Kenya and at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown.

The students receive about 30 photos per pair, Nachtigall explained. Based on the pictures, the students have had to generate questions, which have included whether young deer spend more time with male or female parents, or whether hyenas come out more on full or new moons.

According to Nachtigall, Markham “has such a friendly veneer and an approachable affect” that she readily engages with the students. “She has this wonderful demeanor. She’s soft-spoken, but strong.”

Students in her class appreciate the opportunity to interact with a Stony Brook researcher. “By the end of the period, they are glad to have met her,” Nachtigall added. “Some of them want to become her.”

At the same time, Nachtigall and the other science teachers appreciate the opportunity to hear more from local scientists.

“We live vicariously through her,” Nachtigall said. “It really ignites our own passion for science. Seeing the real-world science for science teachers is just as exciting as it is for students.” Markham is working to post materials online so that teachers and parents can access the information.

A native of Rockville, Maryland, Markham, who joined Stony Brook in 2014, resides in St. James. When she was young, Markham enjoyed the opportunity to join class events in kayaks along the Potomac River. She occasionally saw beaver and bald eagles. Indeed, along the way toward working with baboons, she has also conducted research on bald eagles, monitoring their nests with remote cameras.

As for her work on the Science article, Markham said she is pleased that this kind of collaborative research can provide broad ranging insight to address questions that extend beyond the realm of any one lab or species.

Daniel Mockler in his office at Stony Brook University. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

At first, people didn’t believe it. Now, it seems, they are eager to learn more.

Working with a talented team that included postdoctoral researchers, doctoral students and doctors, Kenneth Shroyer, the chairman of the Department of Pathology at Stony Brook University, noticed something odd about a protein that scientists thought played a supporting role, but that, as it turns out, may be much more of a villain in the cancer story.

Known as keratin 17, this protein was thought to act as a tent pole, providing structural support. That, however, isn’t the only thing it can do. The co-director of Shroyer’s lab, Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, found that this protein was prevalent in some types of cancers. What’s more, the protein seemed to be in higher concentration in a more aggressive form of the disease.

Now, working with Long Island native Daniel Mockler, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, Shroyer and his team discovered that the presence of this particular protein has prognostic value for endocervical glandular neoplasia, suggesting the likely course of the disease.

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, the article by Mockler and his team in the Sept. 1, 2017, issue attracted the attention of pathologists around the world. It ranked as the third highest read article in the final month of 2017, according to Medscape. It was behind two other papers that were review articles, which made it the most read primary research report in pathology in December.

The response “did exceed my expectations,” Mockler stated in an email. “I would have thought [Shroyer’s earlier] paper showing that k17 can function in gene regulation would have been more popular. But I guess this [new paper] illustrates that topics that have a possible direct impact on practicing surgical pathologists will draw a lot of attention.”

To be sure, while the recent study is an early indication of the potential predictive value of this protein, there may be some mitigating factors that could affect its clinical applicability.

“It’s premature to know what the clinical utility of this marker will be,” Shroyer said. “To determine that would require a large-scale prospective clinical trial” that would involve other patient populations and other laboratories.

Still, depending on the outcome of research currently underway in Shroyer’s lab, the protein may offer a way of determining the necessary therapy for patients with the same diagnosis.

Doctors don’t want to give patients with milder version of the disease high levels of chemotherapy, which would cause uncomfortable side effects. At the same time, they want to be as aggressive as possible in treating patients whose cancers are likely a more significant threat.

“The goal of having an excellent prognostic biomarker … is to avoid over and under treatment of patients,” suggested Mockler, who is also an attending pathologist at SBU and Stony Brook Southampton.

Shroyer was delighted with the efforts of the team that put together this well-read research. “As is true of all our clinical faculty, I want to give them every opportunity to take advantage of their ability to collaborate with research faculty in our department and throughout the cancer center and the school of medicine to advance their scholarly careers and academic productivity,” he said.

Mockler’s success and the visibility of this paper is “an excellent example of how someone with a busy clinical practice can also have a major impact on translational research,” Shroyer added.

Mockler appreciated the support and work of Escobar-Hoyos, who had conducted her doctoral research in Shroyer’s lab. She has “been the main driving force, along with [Shroyer] in the initial discovery of k17 including its prognostic implications as well as its possible function in regulating gene expression,” he said.

Mockler said he spends about 80 percent of his time on patient care, with the remaining efforts divided between research and academic pursuits. His first priority is providing “excellent patient care.”

Working with Shroyer and Escobar-Hoyos, Mockler explained that they have started looking at k17 in organ systems including the esophagus, pancreas and bladder. “We are currently looking at k17 from a diagnostic point of view in regards to bladder cancer,” he said. “Discoveries that impact the daily signout of surgical pathologists by allowing us to make better and more consistent diagnoses interests me very much.”

A resident of Kings Park, Mockler, who grew up in Hicksville, lives with his fiancée Danielle Kurkowski, who is a medical technologist of flow cytometry research and development at ICON Central Laboratories in Farmingdale.

Daniel Mockler on a recent snowboarding trip to Aspen. Photo from Daniel Mockler

Outside of his work in medicine, Mockler is an avid snowboard enthusiast. He tries to get in as many trips as possible during the winter, including a vacation a few weeks ago to the Austrian Alps. A more typical trip, however, is to western mountains or to Vermont, including Killington, Okemo and Stratton.

“To blow off steam and relax, nothing is better than being on a snow-covered mountain,” he said.

Mockler is pleased with the developments in the department. He has seen the “research goals of the department change quite significantly,” adding that Shroyer has “done a tremendous amount of recruiting.”

Mockler suggests to residents that it’s “good to get involved. I always tell them that [Shroyer] has a pretty active research lab and he likes it when residents get involved.”

As for his work on k17, Mockler is pleased that he’s been able to contribute to the ongoing efforts. Shroyer “has been doing this a while and I have seen the excitement and energy he has put into k17,” he explained, “so I know that we are onto something big.”

And so, apparently, do readers of pathology journals.

Matthew Lerner, far right, with his lab group at Stony Brook University. Photo from Matthew Lerner

By Daniel Dunaief

An actor draws in members of an audience, encouraging them to understand, appreciate and perhaps even become sympathetic to a world created on a stage. The process of creating scenes for the actor, however, can also change his or her world off the stage.

A team of scientists from Vanderbilt University, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Stony Brook University recently received $3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health for four years to study how participation in a theater production can help people with autism spectrum disorders.

Matthew Lerner. Photo by Graham Chedd from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

“Theater is a venue for learning and gaining skills,” said Matthew Lerner, an assistant professor of psychology, psychiatry and pediatrics at the Department of Psychology at SBU who is leading the Long Island part of a study that will involve about 240 participants from age 10 through 16. “The process of putting on a play with others and being able to successfully produce and perform that has key benefits to learn and practice.”

Called SENSE Theatre (for Social Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology), the shows were created by the project leader, Blythe Corbett, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and psychology and investigator at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, who herself performed in stage plays before pursuing her scientific career.

Corbett writes the plays, which have themes she believes are important not only for autism but also for the general public. The topics include acceptance, belonging and diversity and offer a current of core ideas that are “part of having a condition that is unique,” she said. The plays, which typically have about 20 characters, include music and last about 45 minutes.

Tiffany Adams and Jane Goodwin participate in the SENSE Theatre program. Photo by Steve Green, Vanderbilt University

Corbett explained that the experience uses theater as a platform for teaching fundamental areas that could help people with autism spectrum disorders, including reciprocal social communication, flexible thinking and behavior and imagination.

“It also gives [the participants] an opportunity to be exposed to social situations and to engage with others in a safe and supportive environment,” she said. “They can be John today and Henry tomorrow, which allows them to expand their repertoire in a playful, fun way” which, she hopes, might help them assimilate lessons when the program ends.

Corbett has been developing SENSE Theatre for nine years. This specific multisite project will allow her to see how transportable this program is to other locations, where other investigators who have not been involved with this before can employ it with other participants.

The investigators, which include Corbett, Lerner and Susan White at the University of Alabama, will monitor the participants through psychological testing, social interaction and research EEG, or electroencephalography. This is a noninvasive way of monitoring electrical activity in the brain that involves placing electrodes on or below the scalp. The EEG testing takes about 45 minutes.

Participation is free, although members, who go through a screening process, need to contribute to the research program by completing the evaluations.

The theater program has a control study, calling Tackling Teenage Training, in which participants will “address some of the challenges of being a teen,” which include dating and puberty, knowing how to know if somebody likes or doesn’t like you and how to express desires or interests appropriately, Lerner said.

Savannah Bradley participates in the SENSE Theatre program. Photo from Steve Green , Vanderbilt University

Corbett chose to work with Lerner because of considerable overlap in their interests in using performance to provide clinical help for people with autism spectrum disorders. Lerner “has a very strong interest in theater and is able to understand the core approach” to the training and shows as a form of intervention. He is an “engaging, charismatic individual who is extremely hard-working” and is a “really good choice in terms of harnessing his energy and intelligence.”

Indeed, Lerner and Karen Levine, a licensed psychologist and the co-author of “Treatment Planning for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” developed a model in 2004 for youths with disabilities to work on social skills called Spotlight, which utilized techniques of theater games and dramatic training. Spotlight is a program of Northeast Arc, a human services organization founded in 1954 and based in Massachusetts.

The Spotlight efforts started with nine students and has expanded to include hundreds of families each year.

In early high school, Lerner met someone who would change his life. He was having dinner with the family of a friend of his younger sister’s when he noticed a boy, Ben, playing on his own in another room. Lerner asked if he could play with Ben, who was 2 at the time and was running a car back and forth across the top of a toy playhouse.

Lerner mirrored what Ben did. “He looked at me curiously and kept doing what he was doing,” Lerner recalled. “I followed him around for over two hours.”

A scene from a performance by SENSE Theatre. Photo by Steve Green, Vanderbilt University

Up to that point in his life, Lerner thought the experience with Ben was “the most fascinating two hours of my life.” He had made a connection in which he “loved the joy and challenge of trying to meet him where he was, rather than behave in a way that was consistent with what the world expected.”

Lerner studied philosophy and music at Wesleyan University. After earning his doctorate at the University of Virginia, where his dissertation explored why youths with autism experience social problems, Lerner worked at the University of Chicago and then moved to SBU in 2013.

A native of Swampscott, Massachusetts, Lerner lives in Port Jefferson with his wife Chelsea Finn, a pediatric nurse practitioner in the Stony Brook Hospital Emergency Room and a nurse practitioner at SV Pediatrics in Patchogue. The couple has a 4-year-old son Everett and a 6-month-old son Sawyer.

Lerner is looking for people who would like to participate in the study. They can reach out to him by phone at 631-632-7857 or by email at lernerlab@stonybrook.edu. The first set of students will begin working in the SENSE Theatre program this spring and summer.

Corbett said the participants aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program.

“The overwhelming sentiment from those who come to see the performance is that it changes their perception of what it means to have autism,” Corbett said. After the show, some of the audience members “ask who are the children with autism.”

Parents of the actors are pleasantly surprised by the things their children are able to do, which exceed their expectations. “In one of our previous studies, parents reported that their stress went down” during the program, she said, “which appeared to be in response to the child participating in intervention.”

Search begins for a new swim and diving coach at university, SBU says unrelated to abuse allegations

Stony Brook University women’s swimming and diving team’s head coach faces allegations of mental and emotional abuse. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University’s athletics department is in search of a new women’s swimming and diving coaching staff, as the former head coach faces allegations of mental and emotional abuse made by former members of the team.

After a five-year hiatus due to renovations of the school’s pool, the Division 1 team returned to competition in 2017 with two-time Jamaican Olympian Janelle Atkinson as head coach. In a Jan. 26 article on the website www.swimswam.com, a list of allegations of emotional and mental abuse at the hands of Atkinson was attributed to former team member Arianna Rodriguez. According to the site, the allegations were corroborated by at least one other teammate, even though no other swimmer was named in the article, and shortly after posting, multiple members of the Fairfield University swim team, which Atkinson coached in the past, reached out to the website saying they had similar experiences with the coach.

Tess Stepakoff, a former team member and managing editor of SBU’s student newspaper, The Statesman, published an editorial Jan. 28 on the paper’s website
alleging emotional and mental abuse while a team member.

She said despite the initial excitement of the team’s return, as the 2017 season drew to a close, the roster dropped from 13 swimmers to six. In Stepakoff’s editorial she wrote that it was a dream for her to join the Division 1 swim team, but her experience soon turned into a nightmare when she said Atkinson broke the team members’ trust and spirits.

“We were told that we were weak, that we were not enough, and we were not trying,” Stepakoff wrote. “We were cursed at and screamed at during every practice for months. As our physical and mental health declined, we were told to get over it.”

In the editorial, Stepakoff said if a team member missed practice for injuries or illnesses there was the potential of losing their spot on the swimming and diving team. She said the teammates and their families filed complaints, made phone calls and had meetings with the athletics department to discuss the alleged abuses.

According to the Stony Brook Athletics website, compliance with NCAA, America East Conference and university rules and regulations is a part of its mission. As a member of the NCAA, SBU is responsible for the actions of its coaches, student-athletes, faculty and staff, alumni and friends of the program.

Atkinson and assistant coach Jordan Bowen are no longer listed on the SBU athletics website as part of the coaching staff. No allegations have been made against Bowen.

Lauren Sheprow, a spokeswoman for the university, said SBU could not comment on the allegations as it does not discuss personnel issues but confirmed the athletics department is looking for new coaches.

“Athletics decided to make a change in the leadership of the swimming and diving program and will initiate a national search to identify a new coach to lead and grow the program,” she said in an email.

In her editorial, Stepakoff said that Atkinson’s past employers, Fairfield University and University of Connecticut athletics departments, did not provide reasons as to why the coach’s contracts were not renewed.

“These colleges were able to get away without any bad press, but now Stony Brook does not have that option because we, past and present Stony Brook swimmers, decided to fight back publicly,” Stepakoff wrote.

Atkinson, Rodriguez, Stepakoff and other members of the team did not return messages for comments.

By Patrice Domeischel

Our local Audubon chapter, Four Harbors Audubon Society, is on a mission — to eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, bird mortality at Stony Brook University. We recently learned of a severe window-strike problem at two of its campuses. Of special concern is the South Campus, consisting of a cluster of interconnected buildings, each one-story tall, and covered in mirrored windows.

Window collisions are a prime cause of bird fatalities (second only to falling prey to cats), causing anywhere from 365 to 988 million deaths per year in the United States. Collisions are most apparent to us during migration but occur all year. A 2014 window-strike study published by the American Ornithological Society indicates that the greatest total number of bird collisions in the United States occurs with residential (one to three stories tall) and low-rise (four to 11 stories tall) buildings, not skyscrapers (over 12 stories) as one might expect.

A South Campus walk to determine the severity of the strike problem, conducted by Four Harbors Conservation Chair John Turner, revealed numerous bird mortalities and some stunned birds, including species such as the American redstart, Canada warbler, black-and-white warbler, Swainson’s thrush, common yellowthroat, gray catbird, common grackle, dark-eyed junco and American robin. A total of 20 dead and stunned birds were found during one visit, and more during two subsequent visits. Turner found the mirrored windows to be particularly dangerous for birds as their highly reflective quality appeared to be a continuation of the nearby landscape. Mortality at these buildings far exceeded the national average for buildings of low height.

A proposal to embark on a project to address the problem was brought to the Four Harbors board, voted upon and approved. Research into the most effective and least costly way to address the window strikes at SBU resulted in a plan to affix ultraviolet decals to as many of the South and Main Campus windows as possible, emphasizing the worst strike areas. Our goal is the elimination, or at least a sharp reduction, in the incidence of bird window strikes occurring at the university.

Why window decals?

These small 4-by-4-inch stickers reflect ultraviolet light, invisible to us, but appearing as a bright, glowing area to birds. The decal alerts birds to the presence of an obstacle, causing them to redirect their flight pattern and get out of harm’s way. Four Harbors used Window Alert* decals, but there are many other brands and styles of decal on the market, and additional deterrent choices, such as window tape and netting, to choose from. The most effective solution on already-existing windows, but also most expensive, is to erect netting. Prior to Four Harbors involvement, a concerned individual employed this solution on a particularly lethal wall of windows with 100 percent effectiveness. For our chapter, though, window decals seemed the next best thing.

Getting the job done

In October 2017, after obtaining the necessary permit from the university, Four Harbors board members and volunteers spent two days affixing over 1,200 ultraviolet window decals and dabbing ultraviolet liquid on windows of all 11 buildings comprising the South Campus, including the worst culprit, Rockland Hall, where the highest number of strikes had occurred.

As we applied the stickers, additional birds were discovered, including Philadelphia vireo, Tennessee warbler, northern waterthrush, swamp sparrow, northern parula warbler and Swainson’s thrush, and, to our dismay, two yellow-rumped warblers hit as we were applying the decals. Fortunately, one of these two seemed to sustain no injury and after some rest was soon able to fly off.

I think we all felt a bit exhausted afterward, but elated also, knowing that there had been a positive effort to eliminate window strikes at the university. Next on the Four Harbors agenda are plans to continue with the project at the Main Campus.

Prevention is key

Many of you have wondered what you can do to assist and protect birds in this hazardous world. Each day, birds must contend with numerous obstacles: predation, hazardous weather conditions and hunger and starvation. Window strikes are an additional deadly threat, but one that we can do something about. By employing this simple and easy window-strike solution at your own home, you can do your part to make life for our birds a safer one.

Our thanks to Tom Lanzilotta, SUNY, Stony Brook, for acting as our director; Financial Services for Facilities & Administration, SUNY, Stony Brook, for granting permission for this project; to Carl Safina, for alerting us to the problem; and to the Safina Center and Seatuck Environmental Association for their generous donations to cover the partial cost of the decals.

*Four Harbors Audubon Society does not endorse any brand of window-strike deterrent on the market. See the following websites for additional information on window-strike prevention:

https://www.birdwatchersdigest.com/bwdsite/learn/top10/ windowstrikes.php

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/why-birds-hit-windows-and-how-you-can-help-prevent-it/

http://www.collidescape.org/

http://www.duncraft.com/

All photos by Patrice Domeischel

From left, Deyu Lu (sitting), Anatoly Frenkel (standing), Yuwei Lin and Janis Timoshenko. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

What changes and how it changes from moment to moment can be the focus of curiosity — or survival. A zebra in Africa needs to detect subtle shifts in the environment, forcing it to focus on the possibility of a nearby predator like a lion.

Similarly, scientists are eager to understand, on an incredibly small scale, the way important participants in chemical processes change as they create products, remove pollutants from the air or engines or participate in reactions that make electronic equipment better or more efficient.

Throughout a process, a catalyst can alter its shape, sometimes leading to a desired product and other times resulting in an unwanted dead end. Understanding the structural forks in the road during these interactions can enable researchers to create conditions that favor specific structural configurations that facilitate particular products.

First, however, scientists need to see how catalysts involved in these reactions change.

That’s where Anatoly Frenkel, a professor at Stony Brook University’s Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering with a joint appointment in Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Chemistry Division, and Janis Timosheko, a postdoctoral researcher in Frenkel’s lab, come in.

Working with Deyu Lu at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and Yuwei Lin and Shinjae Yoo, both from BNL”s Computational Science Initiative, Timoshenko leads a novel effort to use machine learning to observe subtle structural clues about catalysts.

“It will be possible in the future to monitor in real time the evolution of the catalyst in reaction conditions,” Frenkel said. “We hope to implement this concept of reaction on demand.”

According to Frenkel, beamline scientist Klaus Attenkofer at BNL and Lu are planning a project to monitor the evolution of catalysts in reaction conditions using this method.

By recognizing the specific structural changes that favor desirable reactions, Frenkel said researchers could direct the evolution of a process on demand.

“I am particularly intrigued by a new opportunity to control the selectivity (or stability) of the existing catalyst by tuning its structure or shape up to enhance formation of a desired product,” he explained in an email.

The neural network the team has created links the structure and the spectrum that characterizes the structure. On their own, researchers couldn’t find a structure through the spectrum without the help of highly trained computers.

Through machine learning, X-rays with relatively lower energies can provide information about the structure of nanoparticles under greater heat and pressure, which would typically cause distortions for X-rays that use higher energy, Timoshenko said.

The contribution and experience of Lin, Yoo and Lu was “crucial” for the development of the overall idea of the method and fine tuning its details, Timoshenko said. The teaching part was a collective effort that involved Timoshenko and Frenkel.

Frenkel credits Timoshenko for uniting the diverse fields of machine learning and nanomaterials science to make this tool a reality. For several months, when the groups got together for bi-weekly meetings, they “couldn’t find common ground.” At some point, however, Frenkel said Timoshenko “got it, implemented it and it worked.”

The scientists used hundreds of structure models. For these, they calculated hundreds of thousands of X-ray absorption spectra, as each atom had its own spectrum, which could combine in different ways, Timoshenko suggested.

They back-checked this approach by testing nanoparticles where the structure was already known through conventional analysis of X-ray absorption spectra and from electron microscopy studies, Timoshenko said.

The ultimate goal, he said, is to understand the relationship between the structure of a material and its useful properties. The new method, combined with other approaches, can provide an understanding of the structure.

Timoshenko said additional data, including information about the catalytic activity of particles with different structures and the results of theoretical modeling of chemical processes, would be necessary to take the next steps. “It is quite possible that some other machine learning methods can help us to make sense of these new pieces of information as well,” he said.

According to Frenkel, Timoshenko, who transferred from Yeshiva University to Stony Brook University in 2016 with Frenkel, has had a remarkably productive three years as a postdoctoral researcher. His time at SBU will end by the summer, when he seeks another position.

A native of Latvia, Timoshenko is married to Edite Paule, who works in a child care center. The scientist is exploring various options after his time at Stony Brook concludes, which could include a move to Europe.

A resident of Rocky Point during his postdoctoral research, Timoshenko described Long Island as “extremely beautiful” with a green landscape and the nearby ocean. He also appreciated the opportunity to travel to New York City to see Broadway shows. His favorite, which he saw last year, is “Miss Saigon.”

Timoshenko has dedicated his career to using data analysis approaches to understanding real life problems. Machine learning is “yet another approach” and he would like to see if this work “will be useful” for someone conducting additional experiments, he said.

At some point, Timoshenko would also like to delve into developing novel materials that might have an application in industry. The paper he published with Frenkel and others focused only on the studies of relatively simple monometallic particles. He is working on the development of that method to analyze more complex systems.

This work, he suggested, is one of the first applications of machine learning methods for the interpretation of experimental data, not just in the field of X-ray absorption spectroscopy. “Machine learning, data science and artificial intelligence are very hot and rapidly developing fields, whose potential in experimental research we have just started to explore.”

 

FELA The Concert
Lineup celebrates countries and cultures around the world

By Sabrina Petroski

After a brief hiatus, Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts season returns with more fantastical and fun shows for audiences of all ages. This spring will hold many musical and dance performances by award-winning groups and individuals, as well as the screening of recently released films, screenings of the Metropolitan Opera in HD and many performances by SBU’s Department of Music.

Swing Shift Trio

Alan Inkles, director of the Staller Center, is thrilled to be heading into another season. Currently in his 35th year as director, he says this may be the venue’s most exciting and diverse year yet. “I love Audra McDonald, Big Sam’s Funky Nation is going to blow people away and they’re going to be dancing in the Recital Hall aisles, Catapult is just great, and Spherus is fantastic,” Inkles said during a interview in his office on Jan. 16. “All these shows are things that I’ve seen and I know what they’re going to do, but Parson Dance Company is giving me a program I’ve never seen yet and I am really excited for it.”

Inkles said the center produces 40 shows a year, along with film screenings, The Met Opera broadcast, plus the university performances, “and it’s always a really great experience.”

He continued, “A quote that I like to share with my faculty members is, ‘Nothing in life is accomplished without passion.’ I believe that if I can’t be passionate to my team about the upcoming shows, and I’ve been to every single one of them, then the audience can’t. I like watching the audience members’ reactions and seeing their faces; and if we don’t sell enough tickets to pack out the house, I’ll pay for the house. If I have a show that’s not selling well, I like to reach out to local schools or underrepresented families and donate tickets, and we do that every year.”

Catapult

The Staller Center is proud to have been the first theater to have the Live at The Met series and has paved the way for over 200 other theaters all over the country. Inkles says that he always tries to make his seasons diverse not only ethnically but also in the age group they attract. He says that the center likes to celebrate different countries and their cultures.

“We have a very diverse community here and a large international community, so I like the idea of bringing in different things that the students will enjoy,” said Inkles. “We want to do the magical thing of reaching out to people ages 9 through 90, and you can’t always do that with one show. One show may not be someone’s cup of tea, but we will be able to offer them something else that’s more in tune with their interests.”

This years’ annual Staller Center Gala, held on March 3 at 8 p.m., will be hosted by renown comedian, actor, philanthropist and television personality Jay Leno. Opening for the former NBC “Tonight Show” host, and returning to the center for a second time, will be the Doo Wop Project, featuring current and former stars of Broadway’s smash hits “Jersey Boys” and “Motown: The Musical.” Tickets to the Staller Center Gala are $75; gala tickets that include VIP seating, a postperformance reception and recognition in the playbill program are also available at www.stallercenter.com. The reception also includes an intimate performance from the Doo Wop Project and a chance to mingle with Inkles, and possibly Jay Leno himself.

Musical performances

Audra McDonals

On March 7 at 8 p.m., the ever popular chamber music concert Starry Nights will return to the Recital Center. The evening will feature artists-in-residence, professors of music and doctor of musical arts musicians including violinist Philip Setzer, Avery Career Grant winner Arnaud Sussman and cellist and professor of music Colin Carr. The ensemble also includes the top doctoral students in the music program at Stony Brook. Tickets are $38 per person.

The quartet-in-residence, Emerson String Quartet, returns to the Staller Center on March 20. Their exciting mix of music from the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries embraces the new and unusual while celebrating the classics. The nine-time Grammy Award-winning group, and Musical America’s “Ensemble of the Year,” will be performing Purcell’s two fantasies, Bolcom’s Piano Quintet No. 1 and Beethoven’s Quartet No. 13 in A minor, op. 132 (program subject to change). The show starts at 8 p.m. in the Recital Center and tickets are $48.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation, led by trombone powerhouse Big Sam Williams, comes to the Recital Hall on April 7 with their Noladelic PowerFunk style. Their performances are filled with blasts of brass, electric guitar and the charisma of Big Sam, the front man who sings, plays, dances and involves the audience in everything he does. The group of world-class musicians brings the jazz and soul of New Orleans everywhere they go, including mixes of funk, rock, hip-hop and jazz! Tickets are $38 and the show starts at 8 p.m. in the Recital Hall.

On April 21, the Staller Center welcomes Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning singer and actress Audra McDonald to the Main Stage. This powerhouse soprano will be performing many of her Broadway and opera hits. Tickets are $54 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

Dance performances

Tao

The Tony Award-winning Broadway show “Fela! The Concert” comes to the Main Stage of the Staller Center on Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. Featuring members of the original Broadway cast, this lively and inspiring show includes a 10-piece Afrobeat band and singers and dancers performing songs that have been used to promote freedom and champion traditional African culture. Tickets are $42.

The Lezginka Ensemble, the State Dance Ensemble of Daghestan, Russia, will be performing on the Main Stage on Feb. 9. The ensemble includes over 30 dancers who will fill the stage with traditional folk songs and dances of the diverse mountain people of Daghestan. This unique performance includes intense acrobatics and incredible drum and saber work. The dance troupe is said to be “fiery, rhythmic and unforgettable!” Tickets are $40 and the show starts at 8 p.m. Update: This event has been canceled.

On Feb. 17 the Japanese drumming group Tao will be bringing their precision, stamina and innovative choreography to the Main Stage with their show Drum Heart. Their modern twist on a traditional art entices and amazes audiences worldwide. The group sold out their world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Festival, and Stony Brook now has the chance to see their passion come to life. Back by popular demand, this is their fourth return engagement at the Staller Center. Tickets are $42 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

Dublin Irish Dance

Dublin Irish Dance brings the epic tale of Celtic culture to the stage on March 10 at 8 p.m. with their show Stepping Out. Telling the story of the Great Famine of the mid-1800s, the dancers bring an emotional celebration of the dance and music that came out of a tragic time in Ireland’s history. The audience will journey from past to present and will learn about the fate of Irish immigrants who came to America. Tickets for this Main Stage production are $46.

On April 14, Catapult will grace the Main Stage with their seemingly impossible dancing shadow silhouettes. The “America’s Got Talent” finalists perform behind a screen, transforming their bodies into figures in order to bring marvelous scenes to life. You’ll want to figure out how they do it, and you won’t guess what they’ll come up with next. Catapult also uses exciting music and vibrant colors to give their show the upper hand. Tickets are $40 and the show starts at 8 p.m.

The Parsons Dance Company will be performing on the Main Stage on May 5 at 8 p.m. With their trained precision and extreme athleticism, these eight dancers will be performing the choreography of David Parsons. The group has a modern style, mixing gesture and movement to make something beautiful. The Parsons Dance Company has toured the United States and Italy, as well as appeared on French Public Television in a live broadcast. Tickets are $42.

The Met: Live in HD

The Staller Center will be screening seven operas, bringing the Metropolitan Opera in HD direct from the Met to the Main Stage. The shows include Puccini’s “Tosca” on Jan. 28, Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” on Feb. 10, Puccini’s “La Bohème” on Feb. 25, Rossini’s “Semiramide” on March 11, Mozart’s “Così fan tutte” on April 8, Verdi’s “Luisa Miller” on April 15 and Massenet’s “Cendrillon” on May 6. For more schedule information go to www.stallercenter.com. Tickets are $22 general admission, $20 for seniors 62 and over, and $15 for students.

For kids of all ages

Imago Theatre’s “LaBelle”

On Jan. 27 at 4 p.m. the Imago Theatre will be performing “La Belle — Lost in the World of Automation,” a Steampunk Fairy Tale based on “Beauty and the Beast” on the Main Stage. The show includes elaborate puppets, a large whirring ship, original music and shadow play, with a story line set on a steamboat in the 1920s. The Imago Theatre, which has toured globally for three decades, uses over 100 effects, puppets and automata to tell this tale that burrows through the hard shell of adulthood to the childlike wonder of innocence and imagination. Tickets are $20.

International Juggling champion Greg Kennedy and his acrobatic duo of aerial dancers will be performing their show Spherus on March 18 at 4 p.m. Touted as a circus with an extra dimension, Spherus is full of fascinating effects with principles of geometry and physics to create groundbreaking and colorful work set to music. Kennedy, a former member of Cirque du Soleil and a Gold Medal recipient from the International Juggling Association, brings curiosity to life with a circus for all ages. Tickets are $20.

Tickets for the shows may be ordered by calling 631-632-2787. Order tickets online by visiting www.stallercenter.com.

Films

Once again, the Staller Center will be screening award-winning movies on five Friday nights starting Feb. 23. Two films will be shown starting at 7 p.m. on the Main Stage.

On Feb. 23, the 2016 Slovak-Czech drama film “The Teacher” (in Slovak with subtitles) and the psychological drama “All I See Is You”  about a blind woman who regains her sight and begins to discover the previously unseen and disturbing details about herself, her marriage and the lives of her and her husband, will be screened at 7 and 9 p.m., respectively.

On March 9, the 2017 drama “Wonderstruck” about a young boy in the Midwest is told simultaneously with a tale about a young girl in New York from 50 years ago as they both seek the same mysterious connection will screen at 7 p.m. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” a crime drama about a mother challenging the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit, will be shown at 9:15 p.m.

On March 16, the Golden Globe-winning “Lady Bird,” the coming-of-age story about a 17-year-old girl in Sacramento, California, will be screened at 7 p.m. and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” the story of a driven, idealistic defense attorney that finds himself in a tumultuous series of events that lead to a crisis and the necessity for extreme action, will both shown at 9 p.m.

On March 23, “After the Storm” (in Japanese with subtitles), a film about a man struggling to take back control of his existence and to find a lasting place in the life of his young son until a stormy summer night offers them a chance to truly bond again, will be shown at 7 p.m. The Golden Globe winner “The Shape of Water,” about a lonely janitor at a top-secret research facility in the 1960s who forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity, will be shown at 9:15 p.m.

On April 6, “The Post,” a historical drama about the country’s first female publisher of a major newspaper and a hard-driving editor who join an unprecedented battle between journalist and government will play at 7 p.m. “Molly’s Game,” the Golden Globe-nominated drama about the true story of Molly Bloom, an Olympic-class skier who ran the world’s most exclusive high-stakes poker game and became an FBI target, will play at 9:15 p.m.

Tickets to the movie screenings are $10 for adults, $7 for students and $5 for Stony Brook University students. A movie pass good for all films in $30. To order, visit www.stallercenter.com/movies or call the box office at 631-632-ARTS (2787).

About the author: Farmingville resident Sabrina Petroski is a junior at SUNY New Paltz studying digital media production and journalism. She recently interned at TBR News Media during her winter break and hopes to come back during the summer to gain more experience as a journalist.

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