RICHARD L. GELFOND ’76, Hon. ’04

A Conversation Between




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.

Richard L. Gelfond ‘76, Hon. ‘04, Chair, Stony Brook Foundation

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

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.

Sarah Kelly

Class of 2022

Sarah is a first-generation coastal environmental studies major and a member of the Women in Science and Engineering Honors program. This Foundation Trustee Scholar from Lindenhurst, New York, has devoted much of her extracurricular time to making Stony Brook a more equitable, inclusive campus. She serves on the President’s ADA Advisory Committee — which is committed to making sure Stony Brook is free of discrimination, barriers and bias toward individuals with disabilities — and is a mentor for a program that helps students with disabilities better navigate and engage with the University. Sarah also serves on the Future Ready career program with the Stony Brook Career Center and as a volunteer with the Ashley Schiff Preserve, and she interns at Dashboard.earth, a citizen activism app focused on climate change.

"The Stony Brook Foundation Trustee Scholarship has entirely changed the trajectory of my life. That one act of kindness has made a tangible impact. I am on a path toward success due to the scholarship, and I hope to make an impact on the world by addressing climate change and advancing equity.”

Brianne Ledda

Class of 2021

A native of Miller Place, New York, Brianne has immersed herself in activities that will go a long way toward rounding out her journalism academics, including the School of Communication and Journalism Student Advisory Board and the SBU chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Thanks to her Foundation Trustee Scholarship, Brianne also has been able to accept resume-boosting internships with WSHU Public Radio, Royal Media and the Fire Island Chronicle. At the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak on Long Island, Brianne juggled classwork with her duties as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman. Brianne worked around the clock to manage her own work and keep her fellow students apprised of news and developments related to the pandemic.

"The Stony Brook Foundation Trustee Scholarship has been incredibly helpful for me and for my family. By relieving the financial burden of tuition, the scholarship has enabled me to become involved in campus life and pursue unpaid internships that will further my career. I have always been aware that my ability to dedicate so much time to these endeavors is a privilege, and that I wouldn’t have been able to pursue so many incredible opportunities without my scholarship.”

Christian Yun

Class of 2022

A first-generation college student from Poughkeepsie, New York, Christian is pursuing a degree in biology. Alongside his studies, he has been embracing his passion for photography. One day, Christian hopes to bring together his love of photography and of nature by photographing America’s national parks. In addition to his photography and his challenging academic schedule, Christian volunteers with the Campus Community Emergency Response Team and participates in Philippine United Student Organization events. When he’s home in Poughkeepsie, Christian helps build affordable housing for local families through Habitat for Humanity of Dutchess County.

“This scholarship has changed my life by giving me new opportunities and experiences, allowing me not only to learn but mature as a person. I now have peace of mind knowing that I will be graduating debt-free and can easily put the funds I have saved toward medical school so I can achieve my goal of becoming a primary care doctor.”

Sandhiya Kannan ’17

Currently residing in New Jersey, Sandhiya earned her degree in chemical engineering with minors in astronomy and nanotechnology. The Foundation Trustee Scholarship enabled her to pursue these minors, both of which she considered passion projects. She was also able to devote her summer breaks to internships and research programs that shaped the direction of her career. Since earning her master's degree from Columbia University, Sandhiya has been working as a scientist at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Research and Development, where she focuses on skin health and developing new skincare products for top brands, including NeoStrata and Neutrogena. A proud Stony Brook alumna, she recently gave a virtual talk to the Undergraduate Biochemistry Society and currently serves as the chief alumni advisor for the Stony Brook chapter of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society.

“The Foundation Trustee Scholarship I received at Stony Brook allowed me to unlock the full potential the University had to offer. I was able to take on additional coursework and get involved in many clubs and organizations on campus. As a WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) scholar and mentor, I was able to make time to give back to my peers and incoming students as well.”

Ryan Kawalerski ’19

A native of Buffalo, New York, Ryan graduated from Stony Brook with a joint degree in biochemistry and applied mathematics and statistics. As a Foundation Trustee Scholar, Ryan was able to focus his energy on succeeding in his courses, pursuing demanding research projects and developing himself professionally to prepare for applying to MD/PhD programs. After graduating from Stony Brook, Ryan was accepted into the dual-degree MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He recently completed his second year of medical school at Johns Hopkins and will be matriculating into the Biomedical Engineering Department this summer, where he plans to focus his thesis work on basic RNA biology using experimental and computational approaches.

“I can confidently say that without my Foundation Trustee Scholarship support, combined with summer stipends through URECA to pursue my research interests, I would not have developed a love for biomedical science. I entered Stony Brook thinking I would eventually want to attend medical school, but the experiences I had at the school, largely enabled by scholarships I received, revealed to me the strong passion I hold for biomedical research.”

Ayyan Zubair ’18

Born and raised in East Meadow, New York, Ayyan graduated from Stony Brook with a degree in economics. The Foundation Trustee Scholarship gave Ayyan the freedom and confidence to pursue opportunities that ultimately played a significant role in his success at Stony Brook. As president of the Undergraduate Student Government, Ayyan honed his leadership and organizational skills, which have been invaluable to him as he has worked his way through nearly three years at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. During his time at Berkeley Law, he has participated in pro bono legal services in the community, completed internships at nonprofits to advance social justice and helped secure asylum for a widowed mother and her two young children.

“I loved my undergraduate years at SBU and will forever cherish the memories I made there. The scholarship I received has had an indelible impact on my life, and I am immensely thankful for the donors whose generosity funded it.”

2021 Gala Sponsors


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