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Maurie McInnis

Assemblyman Steve Englebright. Photo by John Griffin, SBU

The Stony Brook Council at Stony Brook University has honored New York State Assemblyman, faculty member and alumnus Steve Englebright for his championing of higher education, public service and the environment.  At a recent ceremony, Assemblyman Englebright received the University Medal, which recognizes his exceptional achievements on behalf of Stony Brook University.  Kevin Law, Chair of the Stony Brook Council, presented the award following passage of a  resolution by the full Council.

A geologist by training, Assemblyman Englebright received his Master of Science in Geology (Paleontology/Sedimentology) from Stony Brook University in 1975 and has been a contributing member of the Stony Brook University faculty, teaching numerous courses including the Natural History of Long Island. 

Englebright was first elected to the Suffolk County Legislature in 1983, where he served until joining the New York State Assembly in 1992. As the State Assemblyman for the 4th Assembly District, he has represented the Long Island community that includes Stony Brook University, Stony Brook Medicine, and the Long Island State Veterans’ Home throughout his entire tenure in the State Legislature.

Assemblyman Englebright’s accomplishments that were recognized include:

  • leading the efforts to preserve the Long Island Pine Barrens by articulating the connection between the preservation of the Pine Barrens ecosystem and protection of the sole source;

  • helping to bring in nearly nearly $5 million towards helping Stony Brook Cancer Center achieve designation as a National Cancer Institute facility by the National Institute of Health;

  • establishing funding to rehabilitate Stony Brook University’s Student Health Center;

  • while leading the Assembly Majority Conference, he demonstrated his passion for the environment and was selected to be the Chairman of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee where he was at the forefront of every major environmental policy initiative in the State, including providing:

    • record investment in the Environmental Protection Fund;

    • the creation of the nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act;

    • countless initiatives related to renewable energies, consumer safety, sustainability, and water quality protection;

    • policies to protect and promote open space preservation;

    • legislation designating Flax Pond a Tidal Wetland Sanctuary; and

    • millions of dollars of support procured for the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology that facilitated the development of innovative and effective strategies to protect Long Island’s water.

The resolution also acknowledged:

  • Assemblyman Englebright has worked closely with past university presidents John H. Marburger III, Shirley Strum Kenney and Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. as well as present President Maurie McInnis, to ensure that the campus was provided with the necessary tools that have enabled Stony Brook University to become one of the State’s Flagship Universities and for Stony Brook Medicine to provide the best in medical research and patient care all across Long Island.

  • Assemblyman Englebright’s efforts and successes on behalf of Stony Brook University go far beyond the noted accomplishments that enhanced the lives of countless students and patients who have benefited from the highest quality education and the best health care on Long Island.

  • Assemblyman Englebright has served the common good, and is hereby recognized for his exceptional achievements on behalf of Stony Brook University.”

“Steve Englebright has always been one of Long Island’s strongest proponents in the areas of the environment and higher education,” said President of the Stony Brook Council Kevin Law. “My association with Assemblyman Englebright has always been a rewarding experience and we share a passion for Stony Brook and the advancement of its role in forging Long Island’s growth.”

“We are incredibly grateful for Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s decades-long advocacy as a public servant in the Suffolk County Legislature and the New York State Assembly that has truly advanced the Stony Brook University community, Long Island and beyond,” said Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis. 

“As Assemblyman Englebright championed issues related to the environment, education, healthcare and so much more, he did so collegially, collaboratively and respectfully. He has always been an admirable role model both inside and outside of the classroom for the many students he has taught and mentored as a member of the Stony Brook faculty. [He] is an extraordinary leader, colleague, alumnus and friend,” she said.

Stony Brook, NY; Stony Brook University: Entrance sign

Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. Stony Brook University is honored to be a finalist for the historic Governors Island Center for Climate Solutions. Stony Brook University is under consideration by the City of New York and the Trust for Governors Island to become the anchor institution that will reimagine Governors Island, creating a global hub for climate science research and innovation.

If selected from among three other institutions, Stony Brook University will build the New York Climate Exchange — an ambitious new marketplace for investment and collaboration around solving the climate crisis. Featuring an innovative campus dedicated to sustainability and climate justice, the Exchange will generate transformative environmental, economic, technical, and social solutions without leaving any community behind.

“We are extremely excited to continue to be in the running for tackling one of the most urgent causes of our time, the climate crisis. We thank the Trust for Governors Island for recognizing Stony Brook University as a finalist,” said Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis. “Looking forward, we hope to be able to put our longstanding commitment, expertise, strength and unparalleled research capabilities to work to benefit our community, our region, our country and our planet through Governors Island’s transformational initiative … The New York Climate Exchange.”

Key elements of The New York Climate Exchange include:

  • An engaging and interactive living laboratory with 335,000 square feet of green designed building space, including research labs, classroom space, exhibits, greenhouses, mitigation technologies, and housing facilities.

  • A Research and Technology Accelerator that will source and nurture ideas, projects, and new ventures dedicated to solving the climate crisis.

  • Green jobs training, doubling the number of green job trainees from 16,000 to 32,000 within ten years.

  • Partnerships and collaborative grant opportunities with community-based organizations already working to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

  • A Citizens Advisory Council, composed of key local stakeholders to ensure that partners’ and neighbors’ voices are heard and amplified as we jointly develop and implement new climate solutions, including those of low-income communities of color.

  • A self-sufficient community that goes “beyond zero” toward net positive sustainability.

  • Academic programs that prepare students at every level for careers focused on climate change solutions and environmental justice with hands-on learning, including a semester “abroad” on Governors Island, fellowship and internship programs, and continuing education.

Stony Brook University is the leading public research university in the greater NYC area, and a proud member of the SUNY system. Its areas of foremost academic distinction include its School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Alongside Stony Brook University, the New York Climate Exchange’s founding partners include Brookhaven National Laboratory, University of Oxford, and University of Washington. Additional academic partners include Columbia University, Stanford University, Yale University, University of Tokyo, SUNY Maritime College, and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Stony Brook has invested in partnerships with more than 20 local organizations and unions including We Act for Environmental Justice, Good Old Lower East Side, 32BJ, New York City Employment and Training Coalition, the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, the Museum of the City of New York, and more. A full list of current partners can be found on the Governors Island website.

Maurie McInnis speaks at the Three Village Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Stony Brook University’s new president wants to work with the community.

At its Sept. 15 breakfast, the Three Village Chamber of Commerce welcomed SBU President Maurie McInnis. While the members had participated in a Zoom meeting with her last year, this was the first time they had the opportunity to meet her in person. The university president took over the position July 1, 2020, after the departure of Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

“We have this sort of mutually reinforcing and synergistic positive relationship.”

— Maurie McInnis

McInnis said it was nice to be able to meet everyone during the breakfast instead of just seeing faces on a screen.

“I’m really happy to get a chance to meet with all of you,” she said. “The relationship between the university and its community is so vital, really, to the success of both in an ideal world. We have this sort of mutually reinforcing and synergistic positive relationship, and I’ve heard how much work you all have done to help us get to that place.”

After reviewing the history of SBU, the university president provided the attendees with some updates.

McInnis said the university and hospital have become the largest single site of employment on Long Island. There are 15,000 employees at Stony Brook which serves 26,000 students.

“That means we’re kind of a little city of 40,000 people right here in your backyard,” she said. “And, that means extraordinary opportunities for our community to be a really strong place working closely together.”

McInnis added the majority of students, 12,000, come from Long Island as well as nearly 7,000 from the five boroughs and 2,500 from other parts of New York state. SBU gives out 40% of degrees to STEM students and another 20% who majored in health studies.

“We were founded in many ways on the rise and excitement of science in the 1960s, and that has long been part of what this campus does,” she said.

McInnis said one of the challenges SBU and other universities face is having enough funds to educate students. Institutions have two primary sources, she said, tuition and — if it’s a public university — state support.

For SBU, she said state support has been flat for the last decade and is significantly lower from what New York provided before the 2008 recession.

“It went down, and then it’s been flat ever since,” she said. “And for the most part, our tuition has been flat in that decade as well. So, we continue to face funding challenges and continue to try to work with our partners in Albany to help them understand, for us to be great, we’re going to need additional support.”

During the presentation, McInnis announced that Dr. Harold Paz of Ohio State University has been named as the new executive vice president for Health Sciences and will start Oct. 4. She described him as “one of America’s leading health care experts.”

“He will be a transformational leader for the next chapter of Stony Brook Medicine,” she said.

During the pandemic, McInnis said, “Stony Brook really became the epicenter for COVID care in Suffolk County.” The university has also worked to help get Long Islanders vaccinated.

“We have been all over Long Island trying to make sure that all communities have access to vaccinations,” she said. “Not only did we run for this state one of the mass vaccination sites, which we did on our R&D campus — and in those early days when we still had a lot of people wanting to get vaccinations, we were vaccinating 3,000 people a day at the R&D Park — we’ve given over 350,000 vaccinations all over Long Island.”

She added Stony Brook Medicine also provided pop-up vaccination sites all over the Island to not only help people get vaccinated but to educate them on the importance of vaccines. She said one comment people would bring up is that the COVID-19 vaccine was created quickly.

“The technology for this vaccine had been in research and development at America’s leading research universities for over a decade,” she said.

McInnis said thousands of COVID-19 patients were treated at the hospital, and doctors continue to see people with the virus.

“Unfortunately, it continues to be a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” she said.

McInnis thanked community members who in the last year donated personal protection equipment, meals, iPads and more.

She said on the SBU campus there were no major outbreaks last academic year, partially because fewer students were on campus and due to precautions taken by the school. She added the fall semester is pretty much back to normal but everyone is wearing masks inside. As of Sept. 10, 99% of campus residents and 88% of in-person commuters have been fully vaccinated. The percentage of university employees vaccinated is 70%, while 77% of medical employees have received the full dose.

A few attendees asked McInnis questions at the end of the presentation.

Lee Krauer, chair of Friends of Stony Brook Road and a member of Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners, thanked McInnis for her presentation.

“I think that the university really is a wonderful place and is a tremendous asset to all of Suffolk County,” Krauer said.

She added that residents in her area off Stony Brook Road have had problems with traffic due to the university. In the past, the community groups have also cited issues with students living in houses and not taking care of them properly.

She said residents between Route 347 and 25A haven’t felt heard by past presidents and asked McInnis if she would be open to meet with members of the committees.

“People who live where I live can’t get out of our blocks,” Krauer said.

McInnis told Krauer who to contact to follow up so they could talk about the possibilities.

Earlier in her presentation, McInnis touched on college housing. There are more than 10,500 beds on campus, which is more than other SBU campuses, according to the SBU president. Recently, after Hurricane Ida, two dormitories had 7 feet of water in the basements and 400 students were relocated to other beds on campuses, many in the dining halls.

“I know that we will continue to work with you all to work with our community to make sure that for our students living on campus, that they are good neighbors,” McInnis said, “And, we will continue our partnership with the town and 6th Precinct and community leaders always to address any behavior or landlord issues that come our way.”

From left, Dr. Maurie McInnis, President Of Stony Brook University, Wolfie and Dr. Margaret McGovern, Stony Brook Medicine Vice President for Health System Clinical Programs and Strategy, thank healthcare workers giving their time to help vaccinate Long Island. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

In the race to get Long Island vaccinated against COVID-19, Stony Brook University hit a major vaccine milestone, celebrating its 200,000th shot today. The mark was reached at the state-run mass vaccination site established by Governor Cuomo, located in the Innovation & Discovery Building (IDC) in the University’s Research and Development (R&D) Park. Stony Brook’s IDC Point of Distribution (POD) has been up-and-running since January 18. In total, Stony Brook Medicine (SBM) has administered 350,000 vaccines at PODs all across Long Island.

Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

“I am so proud of the critical contribution Stony Brook University is making in the battle to stop the spread of this disease and bring the COVID crisis to an end,” says Maurie McInnis, President of Stony Brook University. “Today’s vaccine milestone is a profound testament to the dedication, expertise and resources we’ve been able to provide to the lives of those in our community and beyond.”

Stony Brook Medicine has also played a critical role in vaccinating residents on the East End of Long Island. SBM’s other state-run vaccination site located at Stony Brook’s Southampton campus opened on March 19 and has since distributed 30,000 vaccines. In addition, 20,000 shots have been distributed through PODs facilitated by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital in Southampton and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport. Another 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines were administered at Stony Brook University Hospital.

Dr. Margaret McGovern, Vice President for Health System Clinical Programs and Strategy, Stony Brook Medicine, who oversees vaccine distribution, said, “Stony Brook Medicine has administered more than 350,000 vaccines at our various PODs, including Stony Brook University Hospital, the Stony Brook Union, Stony Brook Advanced Specialty Care in Commack, Stony Brook Southampton and multiple locations throughout the East End of Long Island, serviced by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital and Stony Brook Eastern Long Island Hospital.

“Today’s milestone of administering 200,000 COVID-19 vaccinations at the R&D Park, in partnership with New York State, demonstrates our responsiveness, capabilities and determination to protect the Long Island community. We will keep doing our part to vaccinate as many people as possible,” added Dr. McGovern.

To further serve its patients across the island, SBM worked with the state to successfully develop community PODs as pop-up sites in underserved communities on Long Island, to reach communities of color and the elderly, as well as help build trust.

For more information on COVID-19 vaccine rollout through Stony Brook Medicine, visit https://www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/patientcare/COVID-19_vaccine_info.

Paul Goldbart. Photo from SBU

Paul Goldbart, PhD, has been appointed the new Executive Vice President and Provost at Stony Brook University, effective March 22. The announcement was made by SBU President Maurie McInnis. Goldbart is currently Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, Robert E. Boyer Chair and Mary Ann Rankin Leadership Chair at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).

Paul Goldbart

As the chief academic officer at Stony Brook, Goldbart will be responsible for oversight of the academic mission of the university, providing direct supervision for all academic units, support services and operations, including enrollment management and student success, and coordinating all academic programs. In addition, the deans and directors of the colleges, schools, libraries, centers and institutes, including those in the Health Sciences Center related to non-clinical matters, will report to the Provost.

“Dr. Goldbart is widely respected as a renowned scientist, educator and academic leader whose excellent experience in leading a large and complex college will help to build upon our performance and reputation as a leading public research university,” said President McInnis. 

“I’m a passionate advocate for public research universities such as Stony Brook University, which are crucibles of human creativity, guardians of human capability and places where students can discover who they are and how they can contribute to the world,” said Goldbart. “Stony Brook is a superb example, powered by its remarkable staff, students and faculty; outstanding partner organizations in the region; and passionate, dedicated alumni and friends. I feel thrilled and fortunate to be joining the community that I have long admired — and I am grateful to President McInnis and the search committee for the opportunity.”

Goldbart succeeds Fotis Sotiropoulos, PhD, who has served as Interim Provost since September 2020. Sotiropoulos will continue his role as Dean of the College Engineering and Applied Sciences (f) and SUNY Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering.

The Stony Brook University Physics Building. Photo courtesy of SBU

According to QS, one of the leading ranking organizations for international rankings, the Stony Brook University’s Physics and Astronomy program has ranked #89 in the top 100 Universities in the World.

“Our Department of Physics and Astronomy is world-class, and this ranking reinforces Stony Brook University’s position as a premier American public research institution,” said Maurie McInnis, president of Stony Brook University. “We take pride in the cutting-edge research, scholarship, creativity and innovation that have made Stony Brook what it is today.”

“It is so rewarding to receive this recognition,” says Axel Drees, distinguished professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences. “It highlights the outstanding work and dedication of our faculty, staff, and in particular our students who are an integral part of our research efforts. This QS ranking confirms that Stony Brook University’s Physics and Astronomy program is leading the way in research and discovery.”

The Department of Physics and Astronomy pursues a broad range of research programs across many areas of physics and astronomy. It consistently ranks amongst the best and largest in the country. The Department shares faculty with the CN Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics, a leading center for high energy physics, string theory and statistical mechanics; the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, a research center devoted to furthering fundamental knowledge in geometry and theoretical physics, especially knowledge at the interface of these two disciplines; and the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology, with an aim to advance biology and medicine through discoveries in physics, mathematics and computational science.

Recent highlights include world-leading advances in quantum internet development by Associate Professor Eden Figueroa and the award of the New Horizons Prize to Rouven Essig, associate professor in the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics (YITP) and Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Arts and Sciences by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation.

Many Stony Brook faculty hold joint appointments with Brookhaven National Laboratory, where faculty and students are involved in research activities and access unique user facilities.

This is the second year that QS has ranked universities, but the first World University Subject Rankings for the company. Stony Brook University overall was ranked No. 45 nationwide and the fifth best university in New York State, after Cornell, Columbia, NYU, and University of Rochester in the 2020 QS Survey. The World Rankings By Subject covers 51 disciplines.


Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University has been at the center of the COVID-19 pandemic, as hospital staff has treated and comforted residents stricken with the virus, and researchers have worked tirelessly on a range of projects — including manufacturing personal protective equipment. Amid a host of challenges, administrators at Stony Brook have had to do more with less under budgetary pressure. In this second part of a two-part seriesPresident Maurie McInnis offers her responses in an email exchange to several questions. The Q and A is edited for length. See last week’s paper for an interview with Interim Provost Fotis Sotiropoulos.

TBR News: What are the top three things that keep you up at night?

President Maurie McInnis: My first and foremost priority is to make sure we never compromise or become complacent when it comes to the health and safety of our campus community. Another priority is to develop strategies for best working through our budget challenges, which were exacerbated by COVID-19. And the third thing that keeps me up at night — and fills my waking hours — is making sure I am doing all I can to bring our vast resources together so we can continue to uphold the mission and values of Stony Brook University.

TBR: How do you feel the University has managed through the pandemic and what are some of the strategies you found particularly effective?

McInnis: Stony Brook’s successes in keeping our doors open for in-person learning during the fall semester are well-documented. And I continue to be impressed by, and grateful for, what our entire campus community did to make that happen… From testing students before they came back to campus, to everyone joining together as a community to follow our safety protocols. COVID-19 has revealed our unique strengths — our community engagement, seriousness about academics, personal sense of accountability and collective responsibility for one another.

TBR: How do you feel the University has managed through the economic crisis?

McInnis: Even as the COVID crisis highlighted our strengths, it’s also shone a light on some problematic patterns — particularly in the area of budgets — that in previous years were able to slip by, for Stony Brook and other universities. Our priorities right now are to learn from this moment and build for a more sustainable future.

TBR: Even in the midst of historic challenges, what things still excite and inspire you about Stony Brook University?

McInnis: The short answer is that the things that drew me to Stony Brook initially are the same characteristics that excite and inspire me today. I’m talking about its commitment to a diverse and talented student body; faculty’s dedication to delivering world-class research, scholarship and patient care; its impressive record of high-powered research and student success; its role as a major economic engine in the region; and, its emphasis on community, civility and cross-cultural exchange. Our unique dual role as a top-rated, research-oriented university and hospital stood up to the test of the historically challenging year we’ve had.

TBR: How has Stony Brook’s hybrid learning platform differentiated it from other university online platforms?

McInnis: What made Stony Brook’s learning model so successful is the fact that we worked with areas across campus, intensely and continuously, to make sure we had the right fit for our school, students, faculty members, staff, community, everyone. A hybrid model made the most sense, safety-wise and to ensure the best academic experience.

TBR: If you weren’t in triage mode, what would you be doing?

McInnis: When I came to Stony Brook, I identified three areas that we will continue to focus on during, and post-pandemic, and as we tackle ongoing budget challenges. First, we will continue to support our world-class faculty. We’ll do that by creating an environment in which students succeed, and by continuing to enable cutting-edge breakthroughs in research and medicine. Second, we will embrace our own diversity to strengthen the intellectual and social environment at Stony Brook by creating a ‘one campus’ culture through increased multidisciplinary efforts. And third, we will continue to drive social and economic change on Long Island, in New York State and across the country by staying community-focused and engaging in partnerships that benefit the region.

TBR: What do you plan and hope for a year from now? What’s the best and worst case scenarios?

McInnis: I hope that we can use our experience during this pandemic to spark positive change for future generations of Stony Brook students, faculty and community members, and build on our strengths. We are the number one institution in reducing social inequality. And we need to continue to embrace our incredible impact in driving intergenerational socioeconomic growth and social mobility. Connecting students with opportunities after they graduate — from research positions to internships to career advising — will be important in expanding that impact.

I also want to build on our strengths as both a state-of-the-art healthcare facility and cutting-edge research institution. I want to bring these two areas closer together, blending our expertise across disciplines, as we’re already starting to do. We also plan to apply lessons learned from our shift to remote and hybrid learning.

TBR: Are there COVID research initiatives that Stony Brook is involved with that you hope to continue?

McInnis: Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has required researchers from many disciplines to come together, demonstrating the depth and breadth of our capabilities. Stony Brook is involved in more than 200 dedicated research projects across all disciplines. These projects span 45 academic departments and eight different colleges and schools within the University, and I’m impressed with the caliber and sense of urgency with which this work is being done.

TBR: If you were offered the opportunity to take the vaccine today, would you?

McInnis: Yes, I would take it in a heartbeat, right now.

Stony Brook University. File photo

In 2016, Stony Brook University rebranded itself to a new campaign called Far Beyond.

The idea behind the campaign was to highlight the wide range of programs and activities the school offered, since everyone normally acknowledges the university for its medicine, science and technology specialties.

But this year in 2020, the institution proved that it indeed has gone “far beyond” with protecting public health.

Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, visited SBU last week, a stop in a several-month-long tour of different colleges and universities across the United States. But her visit to the local university was different, and she made that clear.

During her press conference, she spoke highly of how Stony Brook has handled the COVID-19 crisis. She said from the start, it was going, well, “far beyond” what other schools, and even hospitals, were doing.

She said that back in March when the university shut down and patients with the virus were filling the rooms, Stony Brook did something different from other institutions — it actually collected data, while continuing to take care of the patients.

“I was listening to the research activities that they started from day one,” she said during the press conference. “And it thrilled my heart to hear from them that their number one thing was collecting data and collecting information in real time.”

It’s right to give credit where its due, and Stony Brook, both on the medical and campus side, has done good work in keeping the number of cases down. The university’s COVID dashboard reports just two students, one university employee and four Stony Brook Medicine employees have currently tested positive as of Oct. 11. Better yet, the school has been upfront in where those cases are located and how it is handling them.

This is compared to places like SUNY Oneonta, which had to close back in August after hundreds of students tested positive after a large super-spreader party. The Oneonta dashboard reports 712 confirmed cases among students since the start of the fall semester.

It’s also not to say that SBU has not made stumbles, especially in communicating with students.

Right off the bat during the start of the pandemic, students were rightfully upset at how the university handled the virus. In March, dorming students were shocked when each received an email saying they needed to move out, go home or find shelter elsewhere because the campus was officially closed.

Students said they felt rushed, and felt the university wasn’t being truthful or transparent with everything being so abrupt. Some international students couldn’t even go home since their countries were in lockdown.

But the students are back, and cases remain low. Is it because of the incentives the university has taken with social distancing guidelines, removing of sports and recreational activities, hybrid learning and sanitizing stations? Or is it just because Stony Brook is not a “party school” and the students there really don’t congregate as at some of the schools upstate, like Oneonta. It’s also important to note the number of students living on campus has fallen from 39% in 2019 to 17% this fall.

With a new president installed at SBU, Maurie McInnis, we think that communication with students has improved. Every person, every institution has been impacted by the pandemic. The students, who feel they are paying a lot for what at times must feel like a mostly online education, need that person-on-person interaction to let their voices be heard, even if it’s behind a clear plastic barrier.

Nonetheless, Stony Brook gets high praise from both us and those involved in the national response to COVID-19, as well as Birx, for going “far beyond.” We kindly ask that the university keeps it up, for the sake of both your students and the wider community.

Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Maurie McInnis at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center on Wednesday. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The head of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force visited Stony Brook University this week to talk to faculty, students and administrators about college life during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Oct. 7, Dr. Deborah Birx met in a private roundtable talk with SBU representatives to gauge how everyone feels returning to campus, as part of a several-month-long tour of colleges across the country. The meeting lasted more than two hours, president of the university Dr. Maurie McInnis said, deeming it a successful discussion.

“We want to find a pathway forward for other universities, and when we want to use what we have learned to make it available to others.”

— Dr. Deborah Birx

“She was excited about what we’ve been doing on campus and at the hospital,” McInnis said. “We also learned an enormous amount from her about what we can expect in the fall.”

The roundtable went over time, and so Birx only gave about 15 minutes to assembled reporters.

With recent news of many colleges across the state struggling to stay open with an uptick in COVID-19 cases on their campus, Birx praised the university for how they initially handled the pandemic back in March, up until now.

She added that she was particularly excited to visit Stony Brook because the university and hospital “stood out at one of the most difficult times in March, April and May in a really open, transparent and careful way.”

“I was listening to the research activities that they started from day one,” she said. “And it thrilled my heart to hear from them that their number one thing was collecting data and collecting information in real time.”

Birx said the university’s research was fundamental in the beginning, by comparing and trying to understand how to find solutions with better care for patients.

“That’s why we have medical research institutions,” she said. “I think you could really see the strength of that here.”

She commended staff for their “months of planning” by implementing social distancing throughout the campus with signs, stickers on the floor and seating placed six-feet-apart from each other — things she hopes other colleges and universities will follow.

“We want to find a pathway forward for other universities, and when we want to use what we have learned to make it available to others,” she said. “It’s been really a privilege to be here.”

Reporters asked the head of the president’s coronavirus task force about President Donald Trump (R) testing positive for COVID-19, his trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and his most recent return to the White House, especially his apparent eschewing of wearing a mask for photo ops despite being contagious.

Birx replied, “We have been on the road, so I’ve been very concerned about what’s happening in the rest of America.” She added she would not question the judgement of the Walter Reed doctors, and she is “very proud of the physicians, between the Navy and the army, that are caring for him.”

During her visit, she asked for insight from students, asking them for their comments and concerns for the remainder of the school year.

“Meeting with students and really understanding what the university did to make sure that the students and the community were safe, I think really needs to constantly be applauded,” Dr. Birx said. “And I think understanding what’s happening with the commuting students and ensuring that they’re safe, has also been really important.”

Birx asked students for insight regarding communication with family members during holiday gatherings this upcoming season.

“I think there are still people waiting for the epidemic to look like it looked before,” she said. “It’s not going to look like that. It’s not going to be a workplace driven epidemic. It is going to be what we’ve seen across the south — where it involves family members, social occasions and spreading silently in communities before and outside of the workplace.”

But she also mentioned what she’s anticipating, and her own, personal, concerns.

“I feel like at this moment, in many of the areas of the Northeast county by county, we still don’t have enough what we would call ‘eyes on the epidemic,’” she said. “What do I mean by that? Really active surveillance sites so that we can see early infections before we see hospitalizations, so we can do community mitigation.”

By having eyes on the virus, it can be more easily contained especially among non-sick asymptomatic individuals.

“I think working with the county, the university can use their data and their ability to translate information to be in regular communication with the community about where the virus is and where it isn’t,” Birx said.

“We’ve demonstrated that we can learn, live and work together safely,” McInnis said.

But before Birx left, she gave one big piece of advice for heading into the fall season. “Please get your flu shot.”

Jim Malatras at Stony Brook University last year. File photo by Rita J. Egan

State University of New York’s new Chancellor Jim Malatras visited Long Island Thursday to check in with Stony Brook University’s and Farmingdale State College’s presidents and see how they were containing the COVID-19 virus.

Maurie McInnis at the Sept. 24 press conference. Photo by Rita J. Egan

During the Sept. 24 press conference, Malatras said he especially wanted to visit SBU and praised how well university President Maurie McInnis and the campus community have handled both the pandemic and the school’s reopening. He added that the university continues to remain open while other schools in the state just a few weeks into the semester have had to send students home and switch to fully remote schedules, such as SUNY Oneonta.

“I want to highlight shining examples of campuses that are doing it well,” he said.

The chancellor credited SBU’s success to requiring students to submit a negative COVID test before moving on campus, its regular testing of students and the school’s transparency with a COVID-19 tracker dashboard on its website since the beginning of the semester. The SUNY website now also offers a COVID-19 dashboard tracking all of its 64 colleges and universities.

He also praised faculty, staff and students for their compliance with public health guidelines such as wearing masks, social distancing. He said the administration hasn’t found problems with students throwing parties like other schools seem to have.

McInnis also complimented the campus community’s commitment to following health and safety guidelines.

“Our students really want to be here, and they understand what they do has a direct, positive impact on their peers and all of us at Stony Brook,” she said. “We know especially right now personal responsibility is a social act.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) was also in attendance. Malatras credited Bellone for working with SBU and other SUNY campuses in the county to ensure a robust reopening plan where the community could feel confident in moving forward.

Malatras said while declining enrollment during the pandemic has exacerbated financial difficulties, it was important to quickly set up protocols to contain the virus and ensure the campus community’s confidence.

The chancellor complimented what the SBU community has been doing during the pandemic from lifesaving treatments to “heroes” coming in every day to participating in clinical trials for a vaccine.

McInnis also praised the hospital and said the campus community did “a terrific job of planning to come back safe and strong.”

“SBU and Long Island were hit hard by the virus in the early days,“ she said. “But our hospital was in the lead in responding to the worst of the pandemic. We knew our plans had to be informed by science and implemented with the resources to succeed.”

At the press conference, Malatras also announced that SBU will be expanding its testing protocol by joining with SUNY Upstate Medical University for pool testing, which uses a patient’s saliva to detect the virus instead of a nasal swab. According to the chancellor, the test is easier to administer than the nasal swabs and there is a quicker turnaround for results as numerous samples can be tested at one time.