Letter From Rich Gelfond
On behalf of the Stony Brook Foundation, I am delighted to welcome you to the virtual Stars of Stony Brook Gala. Tonight, we are honored to welcome Alan Alda, a great friend of Stony Brook’s — and a great friend of mine — who joins our new President, Dr. Maurie McInnis, in a lively and wide-ranging conversation about Stony Brook and its future.
I am always eager to celebrate Stony Brook, but as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis of the last 13 months, our celebration tonight is especially meaningful. I’m proud that during one of the world’s darkest hours, the lights never went out at Stony Brook. Our campus remained open, our students received the academic and emotional support they needed, and our scientists, along with the doctors and nurses at Stony Brook University Hospital, prevailed at the cutting edge of COVID research, driving solutions in treatment and technology that were essential to our national response to the pandemic.
We couldn’t have done it without the strong leadership of President McInnis, who arrived last summer with a steadfast belief in our excellence and a vision to match it. We are equally indebted to our students and faculty, who created a culture of responsibility and adherence to our new protocols, keeping our campus safe. We are grateful to our healthcare workers, who persevered through months of uncertainty with strength, humility and grace.
But mostly, we couldn’t have done it without you. Your continued outpouring of support — for our students through scholarships and emergency funds, for our essential workers and researchers to combat the COVID crisis and for our faculty to continue their groundbreaking research — has been essential to our ability to meet the challenges in the past year and those ahead.
Your devotion to Stony Brook not only strengthens our resolve, but it also enables us to do what we do best: innovate, collaborate and adapt in order to meet the greatest challenges of our times.
We look to the coming year with hope and the knowledge that we are indeed stronger together.
President Maurie McInnis
Maurie McInnis joined Stony Brook University as its sixth president on July 1, 2020. Stepping into her role with purpose and resolve, she has communicated openly and regularly with faculty, staff and students and quickly set in motion a number of initiatives to strengthen the University during an exceptionally tumultuous time.
Under President McInnis’ leadership, Stony Brook safely returned to some in-person and hybrid classes last fall and has remained continuously open since then, without interruption from shutdowns or shifts to fully remote learning — one of the few higher education institutions in New York to do so. All the while, under her leadership, Stony Brook Medicine has cared for thousands of COVID patients and is bringing hope to hundreds of thousands of people vaccinated at Stony Brook’s campus and at pop-up sites all across Long Island.
Furthermore, as the University works to overcome the tremendous financial impact of the pandemic and address some ongoing structural issues, President McInnis engaged the entire Stony Brook community in a deep and broad conversation about the University’s resources and has engaged faculty and staff in developing solutions that will place the University in a stronger financial position.
President McInnis’ advocacy with SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras and others has reinforced Stony Brook’s standing within the SUNY system and in New York State as an affordable, world-class research institution and an engine of social mobility and economic impact. Recognizing the important role doctoral students play in strengthening Stony Brook’s research enterprise, President McInnis has advocated for the University’s graduate programs and students and has eliminated student fees and secured additional financial support for doctoral students.
Before joining Stony Brook, President McInnis served as the executive vice president and provost for the University of Texas at Austin, where she acted as chief academic officer; led strategic planning for the university’s academic mission; and made significant advancements in equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives. Prior to that, she spent nearly 20 years at the University of Virginia in various academic and administrative appointments.
President McInnis earned her bachelor’s degree with highest distinction in art history from the University of Virginia, and received her master’s degree and PhD in art history from Yale University. She is a cultural historian whose scholarship has focused on the 19th-century American South. She has published extensively, including five books, most recently Educated in Tyranny: Slavery at Thomas Jefferson's University (University of Virginia Press, 2019).
Alan Alda, seven-time Emmy Award winner, played Hawkeye Pierce and wrote many of the episodes on the classic TV series M*A*S*H. He appeared in continuing roles on ER, The West Wing, 30 Rock, The Blacklist and Horace and Pete; has starred in, written and directed many films; and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator.
On Broadway, Mr. Alda appeared as the physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED. He is the author of the play Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie and a reading of Albert Einstein’s letters, Dear Albert.
Mr. Alda’s lifelong interest in science led to his hosting the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years, on which he interviewed hundreds of researchers about new discoveries in science, technology and medicine. Also on PBS, he hosted Brains on Trial and The Human Spark, winning the 2010 Kavli Science Journalism Award.
In all these ventures, Mr. Alda drew from his improvisational theater training to lead engaging interviews that helped scientists translate their complex research into clear and understandable language for the general public.
Invigorated by his experiences, Mr. Alda began looking for opportunities to train future and current scientists on the art of conversation. By learning the techniques of improvisation, he knew these scientists could share their research more clearly, foster trust in science, inspire people and build meaningful support for research.
Mr. Alda approached Stony Brook about creating such a program. Since opening in 2009, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science has taught more than 15,000 scientists and researchers around the world how to share their work with authenticity, honesty and clarity.
Mr. Alda remains actively involved with the Alda Center as a visiting professor and as a guest at Alda Center events and workshops. He also recently authored the book If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating.
Mr. Alda has won the Distinguished Kavli Science Communicator Award, the National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal, the National Science Board’s Public Service Award and the Scientific American Lifetime Achievement Award, among others. He was named a fellow of the American Physical Society for his work in helping scientists improve their communication skills and is a member of the board of the World Science Festival.