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Mentors Break Down Barriers

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Women’s Leadership Council helps close the opportunity gap

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High above the Hudson River at the Met Cloisters, America’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages, Bella Gurevich ’17 explored the role of music in medieval art alongside senior curators. Finding inspiration among its gothic halls, gallery of tapestries, courtyards and more than 2,000 works of art, Gurevich conducted tours and workshops while researching her capstone gallery talk, Music and its Contexts in the Middle Ages.

Across the globe in Switzerland, physics major Jessica Flores ’17 interacted with leading physicists and engineers at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator. She spent her days analyzing data from the TimePix detector, the results of which may ultimately shed light on theories that explain how the universe came to be.

Both Stony Brook students can credit these once-in-a-lifetime internship experiences in part to the Stony Brook University Women’s Leadership Council. Founded in 2013, the Council pairs highly accomplished female mentors — some alumni, some friends of the University — with Stony Brook’s star female students to provide them with access to opportunities and break down barriers to their success.

Flores is flourishing from the one-on-one guidance she’s receiving from her mentor, Marilyn H. Simons, PhD ’74, ’84, president of the Simons Foundation. “Marilyn shares her wisdom and experience with me,” said Flores, a first-generation college student. “She also understands the challenges I have as someone who is academically driven and ambitious, but who lacks the life experiences that might help me compete for internships, academic experiences and other career opportunities.”

It was Simons, said Flores, who encouraged her to apply for the highly selective 2016 CERN Research Experience for Undergraduates program offered through the University of Michigan. “Marilyn pushed me to not be intimidated, to express myself and to let people know I’m there,” Flores said.

“It’s a privilege to develop mentoring relationships with the young women in our Council. I’ve been impressed with their talent, their perseverance and their goals for the future,” Simons said. “Working with Jessica to navigate applications and deadlines, and balance academic, social and family responsibilities has reinforced for me how critical the Women’s Leadership Council is to the students’ success.”

An English major, Gurevich was wrestling with a common career conundrum — whether to follow the well-paved path to law school or pursue the more uncharted one into the arts. Paired with mentor Sandy Perlbinder, they explored the options and possibilities ahead. A Barnard College art history graduate and former film producer, Perlbinder serves on the boards of cultural organizations, including Stony Brook University’s Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, as well as the Parrish Art Museum, and she understands more than most the richness and fullness of a life in the arts.

Gurevich is grateful for Perlbinder’s encouragement and the assistance of fellow Council member Karen Keogh ’88, head of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase, in strengthening her application for the Met Cloisters internship, offered to only eight college students in the country.

“Talented Stony Brook students like Bella are smart and determined to succeed,” said Perlbinder. “But what they often lack are the social capital and confidence they need to compete with their peers. As mentors, we can help level that playing field.”

After emigrating with her family from the Ivory Coast to Harlem when she was 12, Tiguiran Kane ’16 spent her teen years mastering English, determined to be successful in her new country. Accepted into Stony Brook’s acclaimed Equal Opportunity Program/Advancement on Individual Merit as a pharmacology major, she was paired with Ellen Li, MD, PhD, of Stony Brook Medicine’s Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Along with offering invaluable advice on how to become a successful student, researcher and medical professional, Dr. Li expanded Kane’s worldview by inviting her to a Broadway show and other cultural events. Kane is now in a master’s program with the aim of earning her doctorate in osteopathy. “The Council and Dr. Li gave me the opportunity to view a different side of the world that I had not been exposed to,” said Kane. “She took me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to think bigger.”

Closing the advantage gap for students like Kane, said Dexter A. Bailey Jr., senior vice president of advancement and executive director of the Stony Brook Foundation, is how the Women’s Leadership Council goes far beyond mentoring to change lives.

“Without families who can provide the social and cultural capital needed to succeed, many talented students are at a disadvantage, making the transition to a professional or graduate student experience even more difficult,” Bailey said. “The Women’s Leadership Council has been so successful in transmitting the advantages not readily available to these students.”

Organizing enriching group activities and field trips has also been a high priority for Council members. The students have visited United Nations Chief Information Technology Officer and Stony Brook alumna Atefeh Riazi ’84, as well as The New York Stem Cell Foundation. A trip to the Stony Brook Southampton campus taught them about marine science research on Shinnecock Bay. They’ve attended workshops on “Communicating Effectively and Distilling Your Message,” networking and internship prep, and “Strategic Dining” to help navigate luncheon meetings and job interviews.

“The Women’s Leadership Council is on the leading edge when it comes to mentorship and the intergenerational transmission of advantage,” Bailey said. “Opportunities like this are what set Stony Brook apart and truly create a margin of excellence for its students. These students will create a network that will build during their lives. Their achievements will be exciting to watch.”

Closing the Opportunity Gap

Stony Brook President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. pointed out that the Council reflects the University’s determination to close the opportunity gap for all students. “Stony Brook continues to take bold, decisive steps to help our talented students overcome any obstacles that might come between their hard work and the success they deserve,” he said.

Mentors feel a sense of pride as they watch their respective mentees move confidently in the direction of their chosen fields. For Perlbinder, it has been a fulfilling experience, knowing she had a hand in helping Gurevich embrace what matters most to her and giving her the support that helped her continue in the direction of her dreams.

“I hope she uses her education as a jumping-off place for whatever area of specialization she chooses. I’m glad I have helped her attain the self-knowledge to seek out people and opportunities that will ensure career success, however she defines that for herself,” Perlbinder said.

Beyond the invaluable advice and art-world contacts, Perlbinder helped Gurevich develop a newfound confidence that will guide her in making many decisions throughout her career and life.

“Sandy taught me that life is a long journey,” she said, “that I should embrace who I am and have the tenacity and conviction to fulfill my ambitions.”

Women’s Leadership Council 2013–2016

Peggy Bonapace Gelfond
Pollock Krasner House & Study Center Advisory Committee

Kelsey Truglio ’16, Pharmacology
Daniella Glikman ’17, Business Management, Sociology

Louise Guarneri ’76
College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Council

Sugandha Gupta ’16, Health Science, Psychology
Diana Hagedorn ’18, Economics, Applied Mathematics and Statistics
Jessica Vestuto ’18, English

Karen Keogh ’88
Stony Brook Foundation Board of Trustees

Chantall Sanchez ’16, Political Science
Jean Adomfeh ’17, Multidisciplinary Studies
Andrea Baatz ’17, Environmental Humanities, Studio Art

Laurie Landeau
Stony Brook Foundation Board of Trustees

Gouri Sadananda ’16, Biomedical Engineering
Michelle Barbosa ’17, Marine Vertebrate Biology

Ellen Li

Tiguiran Kane ’16, Pharmacology
Janki Patel ’17, Biochemistry

Lisa Lourie

Morgan DiCarlo ’16, Civil Engineering
Evelyn Kandov ’17, Biology

Karen Mehiel

Ruchi Shah ’16, Biology
Alexandra Zigomalas ’18, Art History, History

Sandy Perlbinder
Pollock Krasner House & Study Center Advisory Committee

Lauren Fiore ’16, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies
Bella Gurevich ’17, English

Marilyn H. Simons ’74, ’84

Katrina Haught ’16, Biology
Jessica Flores ’17, Physics

Marisela H. Staller

Kathryn Eckartt ’18, Biochemistry

Patricia Weisenfeld ’83

Adrienne Blaser ’15, Asian American Studies
Krisly Zamor ’16, Political Science
Skye Wiegman ’17, Linguistics

Past Mentors

Nancy Rauch Douzinas
Treasurer, Stony Brook Foundation Board of Trustees

Yi­-Hsin Chen ’16, Engineering Science

Ellin Delsener

Colette Eustace ’15, Economics, Sociology

Kathy Frey

Danya Abedeen ’16, Biology

University Advancement Staff

Dexter A. Bailey Jr., Senior Vice President

Deborah Lowen-Klein, Associate Vice President

Jessica Herring, Assistant to the AVP

Originally featured in Stony Brook Magazine Issue 2, Fall 2016

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