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Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis celebrated the successful conclusion of Stony Brook’s 2023 Chancellor’s Summer Research Excellence Fund internships which facilitated the university’s Summer Opportunity for Academic Research (SUNY SOAR). SUNY SOAR is a pilot program that provided $250,000 from SUNY to Stony Brook as well as to other SUNY institutions.

The Principal Investigator (PI) on this initiative was Karian Wright, Director of the Center for Inclusive Education (CIE) with co-PIs: Dr. Maria Nagan, Karen Kernan and Lisa Ospitale. SUNY SOAR expanded opportunities for undergraduates with financial need and/or first generation college students and  offered its participants a stipend ($5,000), a meal plan ($800), plus full housing support ($4059/student), a significant factor in recruiting students with financial hardship.  The inaugural group of 25 SUNY SOAR participants (Summer 2023) comprises 20 Stony Brook and 5 non-Stony Brook SUNY students.

Stony Brook was one of the initial participants of the Summer Research Excellence Fund, along with Binghamton University, University at Buffalo, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and SUNY Polytechnic Institute.

“Stony Brook University prides itself on delivering a world-class, affordable education to our diverse student population, many who are the first in their families to attend college,” said Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis. “As a flagship public research institution, we recognize students have a critical role to play in solving society’s biggest challenges. Thanks to the Chancellor’s Summer Research Excellence Fund/SUNY SOAR, our students gained essential hands-on experience working closely with faculty researchers who are innovators and leaders in their fields.”

SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. said, “Internships are essential to providing students with real-world, practical experience that will prepare them for their future careers. SUNY has set the goal that every student will be able to participate in an internship by the time they graduate. The Chancellor’s Summer Research Excellence Fund was the first step in making that goal a reality and investing in the upward mobility of SUNY students.”

Internships contribute to student success by presenting students with the skills and opportunities they need to succeed in their career through real-world experience and increase their marketability. Sixty percent of employers prefer to hire graduates and workers with internship experience, and a 2022 study found that for each additional high impact internship completed, students boosted their job or continuing education placement odds as well as their starting salary.

Speakers at the “Africa: The Human Cradle" International Conference paying Tribute to Richard E. Leakey” on June 5. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

Combative, loyal, determined, consequential, energetic and courageous. These are just a few of the many traits paleoanthropologists and others shared to describe the late Richard Leakey at the “Africa: The Human Cradle” memorial conference at Stony Brook University this week.

The founder of the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya, Leakey, who partnered with SBU and received 34 grants from National Geographic over the course of his decades in science, was a part of nearly every presentation and discussion on the first day of the week-long event which closes tomorrow, June 9.

From left, Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis with Louise Leakey on June 5. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Held at the Charles B. Wang Center on the main campus, the conference brought together luminaries in the field who interlaced stories about their science in Africa with anecdotes — many of them humorous — about Leakey. Marilyn and Jim Simons, whose Simons Foundation announced last week that it was donating $500 million to the university, attended the entire slate of speakers on the first day.

Leakey was “one of the most important paleoanthropologists of our time,” Maurie McInnis, President of Stony Brook, said in opening remarks. His impact “can be felt across our campus and across the world.”

In an interview, former Stony Brook President Shirley Kenney, who helped bring Leakey to the university, suggested that he “put us into the elite of that whole research field.”

Leakey stubbornly entered his parents Mary and Louis’s chosen fields when he dropped out of high school, eager to make discoveries on his own and to contribute to his native Kenya.

In 1968, during a meeting at the National Geographic headquarters, Leakey “lobbied the committee to divert funding from his father’s money” to his own research, Jill Tiefenthaler, National Geographic CEO, said during her presentation.

‘Sitting on a knife edge’

Like Leakey, however, these scientists looked deep into the past to understand the lives of early humans, our distant ancestors and other organisms while looking for lessons that might help with the present and the future.

Dino Martins, Chief Executive Officer of the Turkana Basin Institute and Lecturer in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, suggested that Leakey was driven by a sense of “childlike wonder” and a need to know “where we are, where we’re coming from and where we’re going.”

Leakey suggested that the extremely hot climate in Kenya was a potential model to understand how ancestral humans survived in hotter conditions, which are becoming increasingly prevalent amid global warming.

“There are many parallels in the past” in terms of extreme environments, Louise Leakey, director of public education and outreach for the Turkana Basin Institute and Richard and Meave Leakey’s daughter, said in an interview. “We’re sitting on this knife edge of really dramatic change now.” 

In addition to encouraging science in Africa, Leakey also believed in engaging with students and researchers from a range of backgrounds and experiences. He wanted to ensure that people from every continent had an opportunity to join the ranks of scientists.

When presenting his research on Homo naledi, an extinct human with a brain a third the size of modern humans from South Africa who created burial sites and left behind etchings on a cave wall, Lee Berger, National Geographic Explorer in Residence, explained that he wished Leakey “had seen this and I think he would have been really angry with me.”

Words from a devoted daughter

In the final presentation of the first day, Louise Leakey shared memories of her upbringing and her father.

Among many pictures of her father and his discoveries over the years, Louise shared one in which she highlighted a pipe in the corner of the photo.  She believed her father “rarely smoked it” but liked to pose with it in photos.

Louise Leakey speaks at the memorial conference for her father on June 5. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Louise Leakey recalled how one of her father’s partners, Kamoya Kimeu, proved a valuable partner in the search for fossils. When Kimeu died soon after Richard Leakey, Kimeu’s daughter Jennifer reached out to Louise to raise money for his funeral.

Louise Leakey has since learned that Jennifer never saw her father searching for fossils in the field. Rather, she learned all about his exploits when her mother read his letters each night to her before she went to bed.

A second generation of the two families is working together, as Jennifer has joined Louise in some of her fossil hunting work. The two daughters are also creating a comic strip, in many languages, that depicts the two of them hunting for fossils.

Leakey believes Jennifer Kimeu will serve as an inspiration to other Kenyans.

On the east side of Lake Turkana, Leakey and her team recently discovered the new head of a fossil. Before his death, her father said it was “time you found new skull.” Richard Leakey was right.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, center, was among the panelists at the Charles B. Wang Center discussing the creation of the New York Climate Exchange. Photo by Daniel Febrizio

Stony Brook University students and faculty gathered Tuesday, April 25, at the Charles B. Wang Center for a special town hall meeting that marked the creation of the New York Climate Exchange on Governors Island in New York City. The event was free and open to the public.

The panelists included Maurie McInnis, SBU president; Jed Shivers, senior vice president for finance and administration; Kevin Reed, associate dean for Research in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences; and Keith O’Connor, principal at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which has been developing this project.

The event was moderated by Craig Allen, chief meteorologist for WCBS-880 and a former Stony Brook University graduate.

McInnis spoke on her excitement regarding this opportunity for Stony Brook to be the anchor institution for the climate exchange.

“Setting ambitious goals, responding to society’s greatest needs and propelling our university to even higher levels of excellence … this is the Stony Brook way, and it’s why we’re here today,” McInnis said. She added that SBU is going to “bring together the world’s most innovative organizations across sectors to problem solve and turn solutions into action.”

Shivers explained that “the climate exchange is a separate and distinct charitable organization” from the university and that “no Stony Brook University funds shall be utilized as part of the capital that needs to be raised to do the design or the construction work or support the initial operating expenses.”

Reed followed by noting that while SBU will not be making financial investments, “what Stony Brook is going to get to invest is our ideas and, as the president already mentioned, our problem-solving skills.”

O’Connor spoke on how “all of the energy will be generated on-site” because it is going to be a “100% electric campus.” He added that “one of the objectives is the buildings, the landscape and the systems all coming together to demonstrate how you build a sustainable long-term campus.”

After the conclusion of the town hall, which included a brief Q&A that allowed some members of the audience to speak, TBR spoke to some attendees to get their reactions to this announcement.

Sergio Perez, a professor from the Marine Engineering Department of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, expressed excitement at the promise and potential of this project since hundreds of millions of dollars will go into it. “We can do a vast improvement to Governors Island,” Perez said. “At the very worst it’s going to create lots of jobs. But at the very best it will have an effect on climate change.” 

Sky Freeman, a student studying journalism and political science, said he believes “it’s going to be a fantastic opportunity for Stony Brook to combat climate change.”

“I think if I had the opportunity to get involved, it would definitely be something I would seriously consider,” Freeman said. “I think the design of the building is very unique, very cool — it’ll create a great atmosphere on the island.”

He added that he does not think that most students are aware of the plans for the climate exchange, but that he knows there is a lot of excitement from the administration and from faculty.

Paul Shepson, dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at SBU, said that he anticipates his school being a “contributor to the success of the exchange.”

“Our faculty will be involved in many ways in developing programs and engaging in some of the research that goes on there,” Shepson said. “I love that Stony Brook is leading in the creation of this exchange where we’re going to be a convener of the best minds in the world in identifying and implementing solutions to the climate crisis.”

While there is still more planning and development to be done, McInnis said it is anticipated that ground will be broken on the project in 2025 for completion by 2028.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, pictured above, during her State of the University address on Oct. 12. In a statement, she said the state’s support ‘will help to propel Stony Brook to even greater heights.’ Photo from Stony Brook University

As a part of her State of the State address last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) proposed providing additional financial support to Stony Brook University’s research effort.

The governor proposed adding $200 million in capital funding for research labs at SBU and the University of Buffalo to invest in new and renovated research buildings, labs, and state-of-the art instrumentation.

In the proposal, the state would also match up to $500 million in state funds for SBU and three other university centers.

In the technical arena, the state would also provide $200 million in digital transformation and IT infrastructure across the State University of New York system, including SBU.

In a statement, Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis said “Governor Hochul’s announcement providing support for an endowment match, research labs, and innovative programs will help to propel Stony Brook to even greater heights.”

The SBU president added that the match would inspire “our philanthropic supporters to secure our long-term future while supporting current research and student scholarships. We are grateful to Governor Hochul for her visionary leadership and for providing the flexibility and mission-specific resources needed to advance our transformational goals of doubling research expenditures and moving into the top 25-ranked public research universities nationally.”

SBU officials added that the additional research funding will allow the university to grow its technology-transfer and business-incubation programs, which foster New York’s entrepreneurs.

“More robust research and entrepreneurship infrastructure will allow us to accelerate the commercialization of medical, engineering and other technologies generated from our faculty to start and grow companies across the state,” SBU officials explained in an email.

The university appreciates the governor’s support and officials look forward to seeing the final executive budget proposal with related details and working with the legislature to enact these proposals.

Previous recognition

The proposed funds come a year after the governor designated SBU and The University of Buffalo as New York State’s flagship universities as part of her plan for “A New Era for New York.”

The governor proposed additional funding for several efforts. The funds would help construct a multidisciplinary engineering building on campus. She also supported a partnership between SBU and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for NeuroAI, an initiative that combines neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

She suggested expanding the Stony Brook Center for Clean Water Technology research to include wastewater treatment technology and creation of the Suffolk County Wastewater Management District, both with the goal of protecting Long Island’s aquifer system.

The state could also support the modernization and repair of scientific labs and could fund “Grand Challenges” that will encourage cross-disciplinary research.

With additional funds, these universities would also have the ability to continue to hire top-rated faculty and researchers.

SBU and Buffalo are members of the Association of American Universities.

Annual research expenditures at the two universities are also a combined $663 million, including affiliated institutions.

By Kimberly Brown

Stony Brook University celebrated the inauguration of Maurie McInnis as the university’s sixth president on Saturday, Oct. 23, at the Island Federal Arena, Stony Brook. 

Standing before students, alumni, local officials and representatives from universities across the country as well as family and friends, McInnis was proudly given her title as president. 

Transporting the crowd back to 1962, when Stony Brook University was merely a handful of buildings that has sprouted out of a field where potatoes were farmed, McInnis said the 800 students who first began their journey at the university would know that big plans were in the works. 

“Out of these potato fields and muddy woods on Long Island, an educational powerhouse would soon emerge, and in less than a decade our university grew ten-fold to 8,000 students and ambitiously recruited the faculty and staff that would come to define this institution,” McInnis said.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Chen Ning Yang came to Stony Brook in 1965 and became the university’s first director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics. To which McInnis said he must have sensed the university was making big moves and breaking new ground in areas of science.

“Looking around the arena today, I see that same bold spirit that attracted Yang and legions of other distinguished faculty,” she said. “Thank you for joining me as we celebrate the luminous and ambitious future of Stony Brook University.” 

McInnis thanked the crowd for trusting her to lead the institution.

Also touching on her own family’s heritage, which is rich in careers of education, she mentioned her great-grandparents and grandparents were both teachers. Her parents were also college professors and her husband is a first-generation college graduate.

“I have dedicated my life’s work to this enterprise and I am thrilled and honored to apply my knowledge, experience and energy to Stony Brook University,” she said. “What I have learned is that our institution yesterday, today and tomorrow is a university of dreaming big, of expanding the reach of discovery and creating knowledge for the benefit of society.”

In 1973, the university welcomed Rich Gelfond, who came from a disadvantaged household in Plainview.

Stepping foot onto the campus for the first time as a college student, Gelfond went full force in his academics by working on the school newspaper, designing his own curriculum, winning an election to be the first student on the university council as well as guest teaching at his own sports sociology class.

“He was delivering on his potential, and then some, because he had found a university that valued the promise of first-generation college students,” she said. “He had found a university that wanted to empower its students to be their best.”

McInnis said after college, Gelfond went on to be a successful investment banker, acquiring IMAX Corporation in 1994 where he remains CEO today. 

Touching on the topic of COVID-19, McInnis said she is proud of the way Stony Brook University has succeeded in the past year and a half by providing superior patient care and extending its reach across Long Island to care for new communities.

“The power of a public research university is that it has the ability and the duty to benefit the community around it, as well as foster the groundbreaking discoveries that can impact the world for generations to come,” she said.

As the university’s newest president, McInnis wants to ensure that Stony Brook is leading the way, serving the community and tackling the global challenges that face us in the coming century.

“I look forward to seeing all that we can achieve,” she said. “The moment is upon us. Seawolves, let’s answer this call to greatness.”

As chief executive for Stony Brook, McInnis also oversees Stony Brook Medicine, Long Island’s premier academic medical center, which encompasses five health sciences schools, four hospitals and 200 community-based health care settings. 

Harold Paz. Photo from SBU

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis has announced that Harold “Hal” Paz, M.D., M.S., currently Executive Vice President and chancellor for health affairs at The Ohio State University and Chief Executive Officer of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, has been named Executive Vice President for Health Sciences at Stony Brook University, effective Oct. 4.

Paz will report to President McInnis and is a member of her senior leadership team. As EVP for Health Sciences, he will work in partnership with academic, hospital and clinical leadership and with community partners to ensure the continued development of a premier academic medical center and health system.   

“Hal has a vision of growth for Stony Brook Medicine that integrates our clinical, educational, research and service missions,” said President Maurie McInnis. “In a time of great transformation in the health care and social environments, his distinct experience will enhance our position as a world-class leader in research and innovation.” 

“It is my privilege to join Stony Brook University during a time of strategic growth and tremendous opportunity,” said Paz. “Together with partners across the university and community, I believe we can set new standards for excellence in care, research, education and innovation.”            

Paz succeeds Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, who retired from his position as Senior Vice President of the Health Sciences in June 2021.