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Simons Foundation

Stony Brook University: Entrance sign

Stony Brook University and the Simons Foundation were recently named recipients of the Insight Into Diversity magazine 2024 Inspiring Programs in STEM Award.

Insight Into Diversity is the largest and oldest diversity and inclusion publication in higher education. The Inspiring Programs in STEM Award honors colleges and universities that encourage and assist students from underrepresented groups to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Stony Brook University and the Simons Foundation will be featured, along with 82 other recipients, in the September 2024 issue of Insight Into Diversity magazine.

“I am so proud of the cutting-edge research, outstanding teaching, and engaged scholarship and service gained from the collaboration of Stony Brook and the Simons Foundation around excellence in STEM,” said SBU Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Judith Brown Clarke. “We look forward to continued partnership in our quest for deep transformational impacts that are powerful and create long-lasting changes that have a positive effect on individuals, communities, and entire societies.”

Inspiring Programs in STEM Award winners were selected by Insight Into Diversity based on efforts to inspire and encourage a new generation of young people to consider careers in STEM through mentoring, teaching, research, and successful programs and initiatives.

“I take great pride in the dedication and enthusiasm shown by our scholars and staff in initiating this program with such vigor and excellence. We are grateful for this recognition and remain dedicated to advancing the legacy we have started,” said Erwin Cabrera, executive director of the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program. “The core values of Insight Into Diversity Inspiring Programs closely resonate with the objectives of the SBU Simons STEM Scholars program, and we appreciate the opportunity to be recognized alongside other distinguished recipients.

Marilyn Simons, left, and Jim Simons, third from left, toast the announcement of a $500 million contribution to Stony Brook University’s endowment with SBU President Maurie McInnis and Simons Foundation President David Spergel. File photo from John Griffin/ Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

James “Jim” Harris Simons, the founder of Renaissance Technologies and former Mathematics chair at Stony Brook University whose foundation donated over $6 billion to scientific and other causes, died on May 10 at the age of 86.

Simons, who was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, to Marcia and Matthew Simons, touched the lives of many across Long Island and the world. He shared a dry sense of humor with those fortunate enough to interact with him, compassion with those who, like him, had suffered painful losses and a readiness to contribute personally and financially in a host of settings, including creating the beloved Avalon Preserve in Stony Brook.

Simons developed an early proficiency in mathematics that helped him earn prestigious distinctions and awards and after he left academia, helped him develop an investment approach that enabled him to amass personal wealth estimated at over $31 billion. Simons, whose cause of death wasn’t released, was the 55th richest person in the world, according to Forbes.

In 1994, Simons co-founded the Simons Foundation with his wife Marilyn. He provided much more than financial support to numerous efforts around the world, including to local institutions such as Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Indeed, last year, the Simons Foundation gave a $500 million unrestricted gift to Stony Brook University, which is the largest-ever unrestricted gift to a public institution and over the course of seven years, will more than double the endowment for the school.

“Our university is infinitely better because of [Simons], and his passing leaves an enormous hole in the hearts of all who were fortunate to know him,” Maurie McInnis, president of Stony Brook University wrote in a letter to the campus community.

Simons served on the boards of institutions like BNL and SBU, offering well-received advice to leaders of these institutions and to the scientists conducting the kind of work that could one day help combat diseases and improve the quality of quantity of life for future generations.

“He really applied his talents toward trying to better [Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory] and to other area institutions,” said David Tuveson, director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center.

In addition to funding a range of scientific research, the Simons Foundation also supported research into autism. The Simons’ daughter Audrey was diagnosed with autism when she was 6 years old.

The Simons Foundation committed over $725 million to support autism research for more than 700 investigators in the United States and around the world, according to the Simons Foundation.

Simons was “the largest private funder of autism research in the world,” Matthew Lerner, formerly an SBU research associate professor and now an associate professor and life course outcomes program leader at A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, explained in an email. Lerner added that the “impact of his loss will be enormous.”

‘Smartest and richest guy in the room’

When Simons was part of the board at Brookhaven National Laboratory, he offered insights that benefited the institution and the talented researchers who came from all over the world to contribute.

“He always had hard questions,” said Sam Aronson, the lab director of BNL from 2006 to 2012. “That was really stimulating and scary at the same time, talking to the smartest and richest guy in the room.”

Aronson recalled that Simons never needed a cheat sheet from the staff to know what to ask people giving reports when Brookhaven Science Associates, which is a combination of members from Stony Brook University and Battelle and oversees BNL, met to discuss strategy and science.

During fiscal year 2006, a reduction in funding for the nuclear physics program meant that BNL would likely have to cut staff. Simons stepped in to contribute and help raise $13 million to ensure the continued operation of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC.

“That was showing evidence that the board who knew what we were doing scientifically really cared about us getting it done and were not looking for someone to fire,” said Aronson, who became director at BNL just after Simons helped spearhead the financial support.

In addition, Simons, who was committed to educating students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, took time to speak with students about his life experience and these fields.

Doon Gibbs, who retired as lab director at BNL last year, recalled coming to the facility early on a Saturday morning with one of his sons.

Simons was at the lab early on a Saturday morning, telling these students to follow their interests and to rely on their own judgment and decision-making and interests, rather than what other people advised or told them to do.

“That demonstrates the commitment he had personally” to education and to inspiring students, Gibbs said.

Simons inspired leaders at the top of their fields, offering inspiration and encouragement.

Stony Brook “went from the concept of being a great math and physics center to being a great university and [Simons] was all on board for that,” said Shirley Kenny, who was SBU president from 1994 to 2009. “There’s no question that I could dream bigger for Stony Brook because of [Simons].”

The geometric path

A gifted math student who first attended Brookline High School in Massachusetts and then moved to Newton High School, Simons earned his bachelor’s degree in three years from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1958.

After he graduated, Simons and friends from Colombia decided to ride motor scooters from Boston to Buenos Aires. At the time, he didn’t own a motor scooter and had never ridden one.

After seven weeks, he and his friends got as far as Bogotá, the capital of Colombia. Recalling the harrowing trip, Simons had said he came perilously close to death and was sure his mother wouldn’t have allowed him to take such a trip had she known of the risks.

After his motor scooter adventure, Simons chose to attend the University of California at Berkeley because he wanted to work with Shiing-Shen Chern. When he arrived at Berkeley, Simons, who hadn’t met Chern at that point, was disappointed to learn that the Berkeley professor was on sabbatical for the year.

While Chern didn’t serve as thesis adviser for Simons, the two mathematicians did work together, producing the Chern-Simons theory, which has applications in math and physics.

After earning his doctorate, Simons, who regularly smoked cigarettes and preferred to wear loafers without socks, split his time between lecturing at MIT and Harvard and working at the Institute for Defense Analysis in Princeton, where he served as a code breaker for the National Security Agency.

Publicly expressing opposition to the war in Vietnam cost him his job at the IDA.

In 1968, Simons, who was married to Barbara Bluestein, made the fateful decision to join the then 11-year-old Stony Brook University, enticed by President John Toll to become the chairman of the Math Department.

Irwin Kra, who joined the Math Department at Stony Brook the same year as Simons, suggested the two mathematicians became “good friends immediately.”

Building on a passion that Simons would share with friends and colleagues throughout his life, Simons and Kra shared time on a small boat that Kra described as a “putt-putt.” The motor on the boat regularly broke and Kra’s job was to hand Simons tools while he went under the engine trying to repair it, which he successfully did many times.

Kra and Simons, who are both Jewish, got into trouble with Irwin Kra’s wife Eleanor when they brought lobsters to a lake the night before Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day of the year in the Jewish religion and does not typically involve consuming shellfish prior to the Day of Atonement.

As a mathematician, Simons won the American Mathematical Society Veblen Prize in Geometry in 1976, which Kra described as a “very distinguished award in differential geometry — he attacked extremely difficult problems.”

In 1974, Simons and his wife Barbara, who had three children, Elizabeth “Liz,” Nathaniel and Paul, divorced.

Simons married Marilyn Hawrys in 1977. Jim and Marilyn Simons had two children, Nicholas and Audrey.

Birth of Renaissance

In 1978, Simons left the Math Department at Stony Brook to start a company that would later become Renaissance Technologies.

Recruiting mathematicians rather than typical stock pickers or money managers, Simons, who was well ahead of his time in his approach to the market, wanted to develop computer programs that would analyze the markets, deciding when to buy and sell commodities, at first, and then stocks.

The so-called quant funds used the early equivalent of artificial intelligence to find trends in the way the investments they bought and sold — sometimes within a single day — moved, profiting from gains that didn’t rely on typical fundamental Wall Street research.

Over time, Renaissance Technologies’ Medallion Fund established a spectacular track record, with annualized returns of 66% before fees and 39% afterward from 1988 to 2018, according to Gregory Zuckerman, author of “The Man Who Solved the Market,” a biography of Simons.

Simons retired from Renaissance in late 2009, with an estimated net worth of over $11 billion.

Empathetic friend

Simons, who lost his son Paul at the age of 34 from a bike accident in 1996 and his son Nicholas in 2003 when he drowned off Indonesia, gave from his wallet, his intellect and his heart.

In the late 1990s, when Shirley and Robert Kenny were managing through the difficulties of leukemia treatments for their son Joel, Simon sent them on a trip to the Caribbean aboard his yacht.

The boat took them to St. John’s, St. Croix and other islands, providing them with a “wonderful vacation,” Shirley Kenny said. “It was just heavenly. It was a very, very happy memory. We had this joyous time before we had this terrible time and that’s thanks to [Simons.]”

Simons was also known to connect with the families of friends who were experiencing medical challenges or coping with grief.

After his son Paul died, Simons was searching for a way to memorialize him. He reached out to The Ward Melville Heritage Organization to purchase land in Stony Brook. Gloria Rocchio, president of the WMHO, took Simons on a tour of the property that would become the first parcel of land for Avalon Preserve. Simon stood on top of the hill and said, “This is it,” Rocchio recalled, leading to the first land purchase of the Avalon Preserve.

Since then, Simons has added to the preserve, which now includes about 216 acres of property.

Up until this year, Simons remained involved in the preserve, as he wanted to build a tunnel so people wouldn’t have to walk on the road to go from one piece of property to another.

That tunnel, which took years of planning, will be completed in August.

In describing the growth of the preserve, Rocchio recalled how Avalon had added 15 acres, which included a run-down house the donor stipulated couldn’t change.

One day, the trustees arrived and walked through a plastic curtain in the house and discovered the rest of the house was missing.

Simons explained that there were too many termites and the house had to come down.

“That was [Simons],” Rocchio said. “He found out the house was structurally not able to be saved.”

Suffolk County Legislator Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) recalled how important it was to protect that land.

“I have seen most of the nature preserves around the state,” Englebright said. Avalon is not only the “finest in the entire state” but one of the “best I have ever seen anywhere.”

While Avalon is a memorial to Simons’ son Paul, it’s also “a memorial” to Simons, Englebright added.By remaining undeveloped and continuing to protect the old growth forest, the Avalon Preserve prevents the water of Stony Brook Harbor from the kind of pollution that runoff from developed property might otherwise carry.

Simons “turned a terrible tragedy into a living legacy,” Englebright said.

Simons also honored his son Nicholas, creating the Nick Simons Institute in 2006. The institute provides training, support to district hospitals and advocacy for rural health workers in Nepal.

Jim and Marilyn Simons visited Nepal regularly, traveling to remote parts of the country and visiting eight hospitals that would become a part of the Nick Simons Institute.

A humble legacy

Despite the many ways Jim and Marilyn Simons, who earned her bachelor’s degree and her doctorate in economics at Stony Brook University, contributed to science and to the area, they remained humble and accessible.

Aronson suggested to Simons that he wanted to honor him personally for his timely and important contributions to the RHIC at BNL.

When Simons declined, Aronson asked if he could name one of the roads on-site after Renaissance, which Simons approved.

On one of the Stony Brook buildings that bears their name, the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, Simons focused on the student and faculty experience. He wanted to make sure people in the building had a place to eat and didn’t have to trek to the dining hall.

“He wanted a good restaurant there,” recalled Kenny.

Apart from ensuring the building served food, Simons found a problem he wanted to fix. At the opening of the center, he noticed that the elevators were too slow, so he hired the person who built the center to create a separate, faster elevator which was attached to the building after it was completed.

Still contributing

Despite stepping away from the world of academia to become one of the most successful fund managers in history, exceeding the returns of titans like Warren Buffett, Simons still found time to contribute to the world of math.

Bruce Stillman, CEO of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, visited Simons’ office about six years ago. Stillman noticed a copy of a geometry journal on the coffee table and expressed his surprise that Simons was still reading math literature.

“What do you mean reading?” Simons replied, according to Stillman. He told the CSHL leader to open to a particular page, where he had co-authored an article.

“He was still publishing mathematics after being an extremely successful hedge fund manager,” said Stillman, who added that Simons was the largest contributor to CSHL. “He kept a lot of balls juggling in the air.”

Several people shared their appreciation for the opportunity to share relaxing and meaningful time aboard the various boats Simons owned over the years, including the 222-foot yacht called Archimedes.

Aronson took a trip around the harbor aboard the Archimedes soon after Simons had purchased it, describing the ride as akin to a “floating cocktail party.”

While on board, Aronson met famed Kenyan anthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey. Aronson wound up going on a number of trips to Kenya to work on ways to apply green energy.

As for Kra, he recalled a time when he was supposed to take a trip aboard Simons’ boat. One of the engines broke and Kra suggested he postpone the journey.

Simons refused to cancel and suggested the boat would come in slowly to Miami and would travel slowly to the Caribbean, navigating in calmer, shallower waters, which it did.

Numerous people shared their admiration for a man who contributed and continues to contribute to the lives of educators and students.

Famed actor Alan Alda benefited from his interactions with Simons. He was “a huge force in so many people’s lives, including mine,” Alda wrote in an email. He was “as generous as he was smart. And he was scarily smart.”

With the help of the Simons, Alda helped found the eponymous journalism school at Stony Brook.

“I’ll always be grateful for his and his wife Marilyn’s contributions to the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook,” and of course, he will have touched countless lives through his landmark gifts to Stony Brook University, Alda added. “He certainly put his love of knowledge to good use.”

Simons is survived by his wife, three children, five grandchildren, and a great grandchild.

Stony Brook University plans to celebrate Simons’s impact in the coming months.

 

Pictured above, from left to right: Simons Foundation President David Spergel, Jim and Marilyn Simon, Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis and Governor Kathy Hochul. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University’s former Math Department chair is making history.

Jim Simons, with his wife Marilyn and through the Simons Foundation, is giving the largest ever unrestricted gift of $500 million to the university’s endowment.

The donation, which the Simons Foundation will provide in installments over the next seven years, will more than double the endowment for the SUNY flagship school.

As a part of a program Governor Kathy Hochul (D) created last year, New York State will provide a one-to-two endowment match while the school, with support from the Simons Foundation, reaches out to other donors for additional support.

SBU expects the gift to total about $1 billion.

“Today is indeed a historic day for Stony Brook University,” President Maurie McInnis said during a press conference at the Simons Foundation headquarters in Manhattan on June 1. “I cannot overestimate the tremendous impact” the gift will have.

The university anticipates using the gift, named the Simons Infinity Investment, for student scholarships for a diverse student body, endowed professorships, research initiatives, development of new academic fields and clinical care.

McInnis, who is the sixth president of SBU, suggested this kind of support helped create and shape some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, including Harvard and Yale.

Looking at how they started, “you’ll find that they were bolstered by generous supporters who were ambitious and wise enough to see the potential of the institutions and invest in the future,” McInnis said at the press conference. “Because of those supporters, look where they are now. That is the trajectory we are on,” thanks to the support from Jim and Marilyn Simons and the foundation president, David Spergel.

McInnis believes the funds will help make the university a place where every student meets their potential, thanks to the support and the “deep sense of belonging in every corner of campus.”

The funds would also help ensure that researchers have access to the “best labs and equipment” so they can “chase the next discovery” and where learners will come to the university because they “know they have the resources they need to make a difference.”

History of giving

The Simons family has a long history of giving back to the university, which was so important in their lives.

Starting with a much more humble gift of $750 in 1983, the Simons family, with this gift and other recent commitments, have pledged $1.2 billion to a university that Gov. Hochul declared a flagship of the state university system in 2022.

“I’m so happy to be here today, to be able to give back to Stony Brook, which has given so much to me,” Marilyn Simons said at the press conference.

When she started as a student at Stony Brook, Marilyn said her father was a subcontractor who, along with her brother and cousin, did some of the brickwork at university buildings.

In addition to earning her bachelor’s at Stony Brook, Marilyn Simons also earned her Ph.D.

“I’m grateful to Stony Brook for all it’s given me,” she said. “I hope many others will invest along with us.”

Jim Simons became chairman of the Math Department when he was 30. He hired 10 faculty in his first year and the same number in his second.

When Hochul stood up to speak, Simons interrupted her.

“I’ve known” all six presidents of Stony Brook, the former Math Department chair said. McInnis “is the best.”

Hochul appreciated the direction and vision of SBU’s leadership, recognizing the sizeable financial commitment the state would now have to meet.

When she came up with the endowment idea, “I didn’t realize it was going to be so expensive for me,” Hochul laughed. If that inspired the Simons Foundation to come forward, “it was worth it.”

A public institution like Stony Brook “has no limits right now,” Hochul added. “I guarantee across the world, they’ve all heard of Stony Brook right now.”

A winning streak

The $500 million gift from the Simons Foundation continues a winning streak, making 2023 a memorable and landmark year for the university.

A few weeks ago, Stony Brook, with a $100 million commitment from the Simons Foundation, won the state’s contest to turn Governors Island into a center for climate science called the New York Climate Exchange. [See story, “SBU will develop $700M climate center on Governors Island,” April 26, TBR News Media website.]

The center, which will cost $700 million to construct and is expected to open in 2028, will house research laboratories, host community discussions and train 6,000 people per year to work in green energy jobs.

SBU has “shown that it has the knowledge, the authority and the boldness to bring together the most eminent institutions to address the world’s leading challenges,” McInnis said.

Left to right: Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, Simons Foundation president David Spergel, SBU President Maurie McInnis, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Harbor School student Leanna Martin Peterson and Trust for Governors Island President Clare Newman. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Climate change often conjures images of violent storms, rising sea levels and endangered animals.

Scientists around the world warn so often about the dangers to our one and only planet that some couples have decided to hold off — or even not — have children among all the future anxiety.

Amid all that worry, however, New York City, the Trust for Governors Island, Stony Brook University and a team of other universities, nonprofits and businesses are working on the kind of solutions that could lead to a better future.

On a sun-splashed Monday morning at Governors Island just off the southern tip of Manhattan, Mayor Eric Adams (D), SBU President Maurie McInnis, Simons Foundation President David Spergel and a host of other luminaries discussed a new $710 million center for climate solutions, which Stony Brook as the anchor institution has called the New York Climate Exchange.

With $100 million in backing from the Simons Foundation, $50 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies and $150 million from New York City, the center will serve a host of important functions, including retraining 6,000 workers a year for jobs in the green energy sector, providing incubator space for businesses that are working on climate solutions and educating children from kindergarten through 12th grade.

In addition to the huge win for Stony Brook, which competed against other high-powered public and private universities for this coveted lead role, the effort could be a victory for New York, the surrounding mid-Atlantic states, the country and the planet.

Near the Statue of Liberty, which is a beacon of hope for democracy and an iconic symbol of the country, the Governors Island effort can come up with solutions and alternatives to a doom-and-gloom scenario while also sparking a commitment from students eager to find an outlet for their energy and creativity.

Will the center on its own help the world avoid the 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in temperature from the pre-Industrial Revolution days that scientists often point to as a tipping point for the planet? 

Absolutely not. That’s up to everyone from government and state leaders to huge companies and even individuals in the U.S. and throughout the world.

What the climate center, which will be completed in 2028 and will generate its own electric power without adding greenhouse gasses, will do is encourage dialogue with everyone, offer hope and provide a place for the best and brightest minds to develop answers to some of the world’s most troubling questions.

Coming just a few days after Earth Day, that is worth celebrating.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, left, shakes hands with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

With a vision to turn parts of Governors Island into a world-class center that blends into the surrounding greenery, Stony Brook University won the highly competitive process to create a climate solutions center.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D) and the Trust for Governors Island earlier this week named Stony Brook the lead in teaming up with other universities, nonprofits and businesses to create a $700 million facility that will start construction in 2025 and open in 2028.

Backed by a $100 million donation from the Simons Foundation, a $50 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies and $150 million from the City of New York, Stony Brook will create a unique 400,000 square-foot facility.

The center will house research laboratories and host community discussions, train 6,000 people to work in green energy jobs per year, provide educational opportunities and search for climate solutions, including those that affect low-income communities of color.

“Climate change is here and the danger is real,” Adams said at a press conference on Governors Island unveiling the winner of the competition. “I am proud to announce that we have selected a team led by Stony Brook University to deliver the New York Climate Exchange.”

Adams suggested the Stony Brook team, which includes local partners like Pace University, New York University and the City University of New York, will protect the city’s air and water.

The Trust for Governors Island also anticipates the site, which will include a “semester abroad” on-site, fellowships and internship programs, will host scientific symposiums that can bring together leaders in a range of fields.

In an email, Simons Foundation President David Spergel hopes the center will “nucleate new business that generates jobs in the region, invest in new technologies and advance solutions.”

The foundation is helping to recruit other benefactors to meet the financial needs for the site both by the example of its commitment and through personal interactions, Spergel said.

Stony Brook, meanwhile, which has a deep pool of researchers at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences investigating climate-related issues, doesn’t plan to wait until the buildings are refurbished and constructed to start the conceptual and educational work.

During phase zero, the university will “work with our partners immediately” on developing programs for kindergarten through grade 12 outreach, on scaling up green workforce development and on developing collaborative research projects across institutions, SBU President Maurie McInnis said in a town hall discussion with the campus community.

Left to right: Deputy Mayor Maria Torres-Springer, Simons Foundation president David Spergel, SBU President Maurie McInnis, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Harbor School student Leanna Martin Peterson and Trust for Governors Island President Clare Newman. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Practice what it preaches

In addition to providing space that will generate and test out ideas for solutions to climate change, the New York Climate Exchange buildings will minimize the carbon footprint.

There will be 230,000 square feet of new space and 170,000 square feet of refurbished existing structures. The plans, which were created by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, involve creating the biggest mass-timber building in New York City. As an alternative to concrete and steel, mass timber has a lower carbon footprint and is lighter.

Mass timber uses “less material and in a more efficient way,” said Keith O’Connor, principal at SOM, who runs the city design practice in New York and Washington, D.C., in an interview.

SOM designed the tops of the buildings with 142,000 square feet of solar cells, which will generate more than enough power for the site, enabling the center to provide all of its electricity needs and to send some energy to the city.

“We wanted to work really hard to avoid having a field of solar panels sitting off to the side” or sticking solar panels on each roof, O’Connor said. Instead, the solar panels, which will be at slightly different angles from each other, track the topography of the structures without creating a glaring field of reflected light.

Guests who arrive at Governors Island will notice a solar canopy that is “front and center,” O’Connor said. “It’s about a message for everyone who is visiting — it says that energy generation is critical.”

SOM wanted to find a way to create a warm and welcoming aesthetic that provides energy, O’Connor added.

All of the nondrinking water will come from rainwater and treated wastewater.

The site anticipates diverting 95% of waste from landfills, making it one of the first in the country to achieve true zero-waste certification.

“The concept of the physical structure is astonishing,” David Manning, director of Stakeholder Relations at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which will serve as an adviser on the center, said in an interview. “You want to attract the best and the brightest. You do that with programming. It doesn’t hurt that [the design and the facilities] are also cool.”

An aerial rendering of the island after construction, which will also include 4.5 acres of new open space, looks more like a park than a typical research station.

Governors Island, which hosts about a million visitors each year who arrive on ferries that run every half hour, plans to double the ferry service, with trips traveling every 15 minutes during the day starting next year. Also in 2024, the city will start using a hybrid electric ferry to reduce emissions.

Considerable collaborative support

McInnis expressed her gratitude to the team at Stony Brook and to her partners for putting together the winning proposal.

McInnis suggested that the university’s commitment to studying, understanding and mitigating climate change, coupled with national and international collaborations, would unite numerous strengths in one place.

“We knew we had the right team to lead this effort,” said McInnis at the announcement on Governors Island. “We also knew we needed a diverse set of partners” in areas including environmental justice, in the business sector and in philanthropic communities.

Other partners include Georgia Tech, University of Washington, Duke University, Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Oxford, England.

BNL’s Manning appreciated the opportunity to attend the kickoff of the project on Governors Island. 

Near the tip of Manhattan amid a “stunning blue sky,” the gathering was the “perfect setting” to announce and create solutions that were “this future focused,” Manning said.

David Spergel, Simons Foundation president, and Maurie McInnis, SBU president, announced on May 11 that SBU would be the recipient of a $56.6 million gift from the Simons Foundation to fund a STEM program. Photo from Stony Brook University

At a press conference held May 11 at Stony Brook University it was announced that the Simons Foundation along with its sister foundation, Simons Foundation International, was gifting $56.6 million to SBU. 

The funds will be used in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics program to be launched in the fall of 2023. The Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program will provide scholarships, housing and stipends to 50 new students each year in the STEM fields. 

“We could not be more excited and grateful to enter this new partnership with the Simons Foundation,” said SBU President Maurie McInnis, in a press release. “The Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program will allow young people to reach their potential as they bring new, much-needed diversity of perspective to science and innovation. At any given time, we will have 200 future STEM leaders on our campus, forging their way in the STEM fields and setting the stage for future generations of students to follow in their footsteps.”

Simons Foundation’s new president David Spergel was on hand for the presentation. The $56.6 million gift is the Simons Foundation’s largest gift under his leadership.

“We need scientists and mathematicians who are reflective of our diverse world, and the scientific and educational communities must work together to find, train, and support underrepresented scientists and mathematicians,” Spergel said. “That’s why the foundation is making its largest investment yet in diversity through the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program. Stony Brook University has shown a real commitment already to access and opportunity. They’re our ideal partners in this.” 

In a joint statement, Jim and Marilyn Simons, co-founders and co-chairs of the foundation, said they were “proud to see the foundation taking steps to increase diversity in STEM fields.”

“The support network, tight-knit community, and sense of belonging that students will find in this program will be life-changing,” the couple said. “We’re incredibly proud to be part of a program like this, with positive implications not just for Stony Brook, but for New York State and the broader scientific and mathematical communities.”

Justin Fincher, SBU vice president for advancement, said, “The power of this gift is that it is not dedicated to existing programmatic or budget needs; rather, it will exclusively support hundreds of Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars students.”

According to SBU, there is a major need for programs such as the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program to address the lack of diversity in STEM fields. STEM careers have seen a 79% growth in employment in the past 30 years, making STEM one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. workforce. Yet Black and Hispanic workers only make up 17% of the U.S. STEM workforce, compared to 28% of the total workforce. Only 12% of full-time faculty at PhD-granting institutions are Black or Hispanic, a disparity that also exists in STEM higher education programs. 

Underrepresented college and university students are much more likely to switch from a STEM major to another course of study than their peers, according to SBU. 40% of Black STEM students switch their major during undergrad, compared to 29 percent of white STEM students, and Black STEM students are also twice as likely as their white peers to leave college without a degree. Just 7% of all STEM Bachelor’s degrees were awarded to Black students in 2018