With the inauguration of Maurie McInnis set for later this month, we took a moment to sit down with Stony Brook’s sixth president to ask what she’s learned from her first year and how she sees the community working together to help the university grow and reach even greater heights.
What are your strategies for elevating our expertise and impact in research?
I think the last year of the pandemic has given us a heightened appreciation for connectivity and togetherness — we understand what a privilege it is to congregate and work as one university community. Now, as we come back to campus, we’re ready to focus on how we want to define ourselves as a unified institution. We can relish in the opportunity to be together once again and use this time to do the important work of discussing, celebrating and reaffirming who we are as a university.
Of course, I think this will require the collaborative work of staff, students, faculty, supporters, and friends across the community. It will require, in my mind, our ability to look back at our history and origins to think critically about why Stony Book came to be, how we’ve delivered on those earliest ambitions, how our mission has changed, and how it’s stayed the same.
I’m incredibly excited to have these conversations, and this year we’re going to work very strategically to build a sense of connectivity and togetherness into our campus life. We’ve completely redesigned the Welcome Week experience, for example, in organizing immersive activities to help cultivate a sense of shared experience for our new students. We’ve also made the decision to move all our first-year students into the same residence halls, with special programming focused on building up the Class of 2025. It’s critical for students’ success and engagement at Stony Brook that we welcome them into our community as quickly as possible — fostering the idea that this campus is a constant resource for their creativity and skill, as well as a second home.
Stony Brook University will be able to excel through the next year and the next generation if we are working together, as one unified campus. And this is an important start.
What are your top priorities for the year?
Throughout the past year, as I met with faculty and as the work of the Strategic Budget Initiative (SBI) moved forward, what I heard consistently was that we need to be doing more to support faculty in their ambitions — in their transformative research that can both enhance our university’s reputation as well as lead to helpful partnerships.
Through the Presidential Leadership Fund, the Presidential Innovation and Excellence Fund and the savings from other areas outlined by the SBI, we’ve made significant investments in the Office of the Vice President of Research in order to support our faculty’s cutting-edge ideas. This could be in anything to accelerating research, ensuring that we have the facilities and specialized equipment necessary to recruit a new faculty member, or bringing research teams together for a bold new idea.
Our provost, Paul Goldbart, will be working closely with deans and department chairs to plan for future faculty hires. In this effort, it’s our goal to be mindful in predicting where new fields of discovery are going. Of course, we plan to hire further in the areas where we’re already strong, but we also want to identify areas and departments where we can really build out a faculty team — transforming our capability in that area and making Stony Brook a research powerhouse in all disciplines.
What’s next for Stony Brook University Hospital?
As a part of the fight against COVID, our hospital system treated communities that perhaps were not previously associated with or patients of Stony Brook Medicine. We forged bonds and built trust with new individuals and neighborhoods, and I consider it our duty to build on that trust. The past year has shown us the critical importance of accessibility in healthcare, so creating integrated facilities that bring the quality healthcare of Stony Brook Medicine into our surrounding neighborhoods will be one of our priorities. And in this effort, I couldn’t be more confident with the recent appointment of Harold “Hal” Paz, MD, as our Executive Vice President for Health Sciences. Hal’s knowledge of and critical experience in clinical care, private industry, fostering academic excellence, and the complexities of a large and diversified health enterprise will be hugely helpful as we look to expand the reach of our hospital system.
We currently have a few projects in the works that would allow us to expand our health system’s reach to even more residents, bringing our programs directly to Suffolk County areas — new partnerships and facilities that can act as an accessible front door to Stony Brook Medicine, allowing different specialists to service a variety of medical needs.
This will be a pattern across the institution — we want to fortify our new connections by making Stony Brook’s campus and facilities a resource for our neighbors.
How do you foresee bringing SBU together to achieve common goals?
Too often in large organizations and universities, it is too easy to work exclusively with the people in one’s department and focused academic vicinity. And yet across our campuses and across the entire Stony Brook University enterprise, we have so many individuals who are actually working toward the same end goals — who have the same mission in mind even if they may be coming at it from slightly different (or, excitingly, very different!) disciplinary perspectives. When we bring those individuals together, it affords them the opportunity to design creative solutions together and, ultimately, make their work even stronger and more innovative.
The Strategic Budget Initiative — in which we had discussions, working groups and committees across the community — is an example of how successful this collaboration can be. As we engaged partners from across the campus, we were taken by the number of areas where different groups and individuals were working toward a common goal and weren’t even aware of each other’s existence. When they joined together in the shared work of the SBI, there was real strength in numbers.
It is very clear to me from discussions I’ve had and observations I’ve made this year that faculty, staff and students all over campus want to be able to work together, meet each other, challenge one another and learn. They seem to have an innate knowledge that collaboration will only further empower their ideas and vision.
It’s not an easy task to match thousands of employees, faculty members and students with one another, and to stay abreast of absolutely everything everybody is working on. But building a group of students, staff, and faculty that are connected and unified from the very start of their time at Stony Brook will be helpful in promoting this kind of aware and collaborative attitude. There may be no single solution, but finding ways to foster connections between like-minded individuals and teams across campus is going to be a priority of our administration in the years to come.
Where would you like to see SBU in the next five years?
I want Stony Brook to build on our legacy of ambition. The past year has demonstrated like no other that the higher education institution of the future must be able to serve a diverse group of students with equity, accessibility and socioeconomic mobility at the forefront, while also fostering the kind of transformative research that will potentially solve our contemporary challenges. Stony Brook University has already proven to be excellent at this.
There are particular areas of research in which our university has always been strong, and these areas also mark some of the most pressing issues of the 21st century. How do we design for a sustainable future while actively fighting the immediate impact of climate change? How can we create a system of accessible, world-class healthcare that’s capable of caring for its community as well as preparing for the health concerns of the future? I want to continue to empower our partnerships in these research areas, as well as strengthen our focus and support for all of our faculty in all of our disciplines. If we are going to recruit and retain the world’s brightest scholars and researchers — those who are doing society’s most pressing work while also encouraging student success and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration — we are going to need to make Stony Brook the kind of institution where these scholars want to build their lives and spend their careers.
Right now, many of our faculty — those who were hired when Stony Brook was rapidly expanding and gaining momentum — are beginning to prepare for retirement. As we maintain important connections with these faculty in the next phase of their lives, we also need to plan for the faculty of the future. In the next five to 10 years, we will have the opportunity to very thoughtfully and strategically hire almost a third new faculty — the researchers and scholars who will be defining the next generation’s knowledge landscape and determining where our discoveries will lead us. As we prepare for this time, we are focused on how to design a successful arc of a faculty career — how to attract the best faculty by empowering them with the resources they need to achieve as researchers, as teachers, as scholars and as artists.