If the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything it is that our students are amazingly resilient. In defiance of all the difficulties they have faced, the Class of 2020 has chosen to rise up and continue to make a positive impact on the world.
Graduating Seawolves Pano Sourlis and Vincent DeStefano were among those determined to find a way to help others, even as they overcame the challenges of navigating distance learning. When the call went out from Stony Brook University of the need for PPE donations in mid-March, Sourlis and DeStefano rallied local school districts for donations and collected hundreds of cases of masks, gloves, gowns, wipes, shields and more. The two friends were among the first to deliver the much-needed equipment to help protect frontline doctors and nurses at Stony Brook University Hospital during the peak of the pandemic.
“We wanted to do something to help our community during this hard time,” said Sourlis. “Vinny’s father is a middle school principal and suggested we try reaching out to schools. That first night we sent emails to as many school districts as we could, and periodically followed up with them. And the schools responded.”
The engineering students reached out to more than 15 districts to encourage them to donate their excess PPE to help frontline workers. This led many districts to donate their supplies on their own, including nearby Comsewogue and Port Jefferson. DeStefano and Sourlis also facilitated in the physical donation of supplies by driving across the county to collect donations from multiple school districts, including Commack, Kings Park, Smithtown and Patchogue-Medford, ensuring the safe delivery of the supplies to Stony Brook.
“We are so thankful to all of the districts because they went above and beyond to try to help,” DeStefano said. “School districts sometimes struggle to pass budgets, and the fact that they were still willing to look to see if they could do something to help the community more than they already do is amazing. Their generosity is a testament to how, through just a few emails, we can all come together to make a difference in the lives of others, and shows the impact that one idea can have when you put your mind to it.”
Sourlis, a Civil Engineering/Applied Mathematics double major, and DeStefano, a Biomedical Engineering/Applied Mathematics double major, are both commuter students from Setauket. They were both heavily involved in undergraduate research and were teaching assistants for the Applied Math course, Graph Theory. While the move to complete their bachelor of engineering degrees online was stressful, and they were disappointed in the cancellation of the many spring campus traditions, Sourlis points out that their stress “doesn’t come close to the stress of the essential workers, who are trying to keep themselves and their families safe while trying to save lives. The stress of possibly bringing the virus home to your family due to insufficient PPE must be insurmountable. We certainly have more than our fair share of school work, being engineering majors, but we knew we wanted to do something to help, and this seemed like the perfect way to help ensure hospital employees have what they need.”
Now that the semester is at an end and the PPE shortages are being addressed, Sourlis and DeStefano are preparing for the future. Sourlis is actively looking for engineering jobs, ideally in the transportation field, in one of the Engineering Leadership Programs at either the Long Island Rail Road or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. DeStefano will be applying to medical school while looking to license medical technology that he and a team of fellow Biomedical Engineering students invented last year. For their invention – a prototype for a novel clinical retractor for brain surgery – they won the annual WolfieTank competition this past November.
Through their determination and commitment to the community, Sourlis and DeStefano demonstrated how they continue to be #StonyBrookStrong.
“What started out as a casual conversation about what Pano and Vinny could do to help the community developed into thousands of pieces of PPE being donated to help the frontlines,” said Pat DeStefano, Vinny’s father. “They exemplify how through persistence, and strong communication, we can rally together to help each other.”
— Shelley Catalano