I recently sat down with Erwin Cabrera, newly appointed inaugural executive director of Stony Brook University’s Simons STEM Scholars Program, to discuss this transformational initiative. Read on to learn more about Cabrera’s experience and his plans.
Q: What was your first week like?
A: It was like drinking from a firehose. What I love about Stony Brook University is everyone is so passionate about every sector of it. The faculty is passionate, the administration is passionate but … it’s really, literally drinking from a firehose. But it’s also been amazing because I’ve felt so welcomed.
Q: What does your job as executive director of the Stony Brook Simons STEM program look like?
A: My job as executive director, essentially, is to make sure that this program comes from the ground up. It’s to build the foundation for these students and my team to make sure that the students here are successful, but also that students as a whole on this campus are successful.
What amazed me about my experiences as a student at The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was when people saw a student of color in the classroom, our professors automatically assumed that we were stellar because that was the culture that was set – and I think what this program will do is contribute to that. I think at most institutions nationwide, that’s not the case, but overall my job is to be an administrator to this program is to make sure, first and foremost, that the education of these students is on point and that their experience here is also stellar.
Q: What enticed you to come to Stony Brook University?
A: I think it’s the right environment. I think it’s the right time. And it’s the right space for us to implement this program. It’s at a place that’s not big enough that the students will get eaten alive. But it’s not too small that there’s no opportunity for the students to grow. I think the environment is really important for undergraduate learning, and Stony Brook has that. But the other side is the institution’s commitment to this program and to its undergraduate students in general. There is a very strong administrative commitment and support for these initiatives – and historically, there has been.
The Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) has been on fire, and other programs and undergraduate initiatives have been amazing. So, that track record alone made me realize … we’re at a place where it’s about to launch to outer space, and this program is a part of that launch. There’s a responsibility that I have for this work. There’s a responsibility to the students that I have yet to meet.
Q: With the Simons STEM program here, how are you going to contribute to students’ success?
A: What this program will do is understand through and through on the student level what the challenges are. It’s really thinking about how these courses affect students’ mental health and how they affect them in total.
It’s going to be difficult because learning is difficult. There has to be some involvement in it. And that will require sweat, and it will require tears at times, honestly. But it doesn’t have to kill you. I think a part of the broader impact of this program and my being here is adding to the message of ‘Let’s care for the students’ that ‘Learning does not have to be difficult.’ We can care for our students in that way. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be challenging … Every student I meet will be my student. I just want to make sure I’m a resource to every student on this campus. That’s critical for me not just in word, but in spirit.
— Viyang Hao ‘26
*This post has been edited for clarity