Talking About STEM

In spring 2022, Stony Brook University announced a major new initiative funded by the Simons Foundation and Simons Foundation International, which also has as its mission the advancement
of basic science, to improve pathways to STEM careers for underrepresented students, and perhaps even forge new ones.

With the Simons Foundation’s $56.6 million gift, the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program will provide scholarships, housing and stipends to up to 50 new students each year majoring in the STEM disciplines.

President Maurie McInnis, PhD, sat down with David Spergel, PhD, president of the Simons Foundation, to discuss this transformational program.

President McInnis: The Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program is the largest new program you have invested in as president of the Simons Foundation. Can you tell us why you made this gift and why you chose Stony Brook?

David Spergel: For 28 years, the Simons Foundation has been supporting discovery-driven research through scholarships, fellowships, programmatic support, grants to individuals, events and through our own research. Now it is time for us to take the next step by creating a training ground for the next generation of diverse leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

We couldn’t think of a better partner than Stony Brook. It has an outstanding faculty in mathematics and basic science, and as one of the nation’s leading institutions for social mobility, Stony Brook walks the walk when it comes to access and opportunity. We’re thrilled to be embarking on this partnership with you and your incredible faculty, staff and students.

President McInnis: When you think ahead to five years from now, what does the success of this program look like to you?

David Spergel: The program’s success will be directly tied to the success of its graduates. I look forward to the time when we will look back with enormous pride at the students who will be trained through the STEM scholars program and celebrate their impact in the scientific community. That’s when we will know that we’ve truly been successful.

President McInnis: As a theoretical astrophysicist yourself, do you have any advice you would like to share with students who may be interested in pursuing a career in STEM?

David Spergel: Take advantage of every opportunity you have to learn from someone in your field. Accept support, mentoring and guidance whenever it’s offered, and actively pursue it if it’s not offered. One of the standout components of this program is the mentoring and support system that’s built into each scholar’s experience. Our aim is for these students to have a fully supportive community of peers and faculty and staff who are standing alongside them every step of the way.

President McInnis: What excites you the most about this program?

David Spergel: Two things. More immediately, I look forward to meeting the first cohort of students to enter the program next fall. Longer term, I cannot wait to see the impact the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars will make on the future of STEM and on the world.

Read more about Stony Brook University’s Simons STEM Scholars Program and its inaugural executive director, Erwin Cabrera

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