Stony Brook Matters

Simons Foundation, SBU Partner to Improve Diversity in STEM Fields

Simons scholars mcinnis spergel
Simons scholars mcinnis spergel
Simons Foundation President David Spergel and Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis with the agreement to establish the Stony Brook Simons STEM Program. Photo by John Griffin.

Stony Brook University has announced a major new initiative funded by the Simons Foundation and its sister foundation, Simons Foundation International, that will vastly bolster and improve the pathway to STEM careers for underrepresented students at the university.

With a $56.6 million gift from the Simons Foundation, the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program will help train the next generation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics leaders, providing scholarships, housing and stipends to 50 new students each year.

“We could not be more excited and grateful to enter this new partnership with the Simons Foundation. The Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program will allow young people to reach their potential as they bring new, much-needed diversity of perspective to science and innovation,” said Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis. “At any given time, we will have 200 future STEM leaders on our campus, forging their way in the STEM fields and setting the stage for future generations of students to follow in their footsteps. I cannot wait to welcome our first cohort to Stony Brook in 2023.”

“We need scientists and mathematicians who are reflective of our diverse world, and the scientific and educational communities must work together to find, train, and support underrepresented scientists and mathematicians,” said Simons Foundation President David Spergel. “That’s why the foundation is making its largest investment yet in diversity through the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program. Stony Brook University has shown a real commitment already to access and opportunity. They’re our ideal partners in this.” 

“We’re proud to see the foundation taking steps to increase diversity in STEM fields,” said Jim and Marilyn Simons, co-founders and co-chairs of the Simons Foundation. “The support network, tight-knit community, and sense of belonging that students will find in this program will be life-changing. We’re incredibly proud to be part of a program like this, with positive implications not just for Stony Brook, but for New York State and the broader scientific and mathematical communities.” 

Launching in Fall 2023, the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program will welcome 50 students each year, with support including:

  • Dedicated on-campus housing, where for the first two years of the program, students will live together in an environment that fosters collaboration and support;
  • Internship and research opportunities and stipends, enabling students to pursue extracurricular learning experiences to supplement their STEM coursework and bolster their graduate school applications;
  • A Summer Bridge Program for incoming freshmen, where students will acclimate to Stony Brook and become part of the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholar community before formal coursework begins, meet the mentors and advisors who will support and guide them and become acquainted with their peers

In addition, Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars students will receive:

  • Four years of scholarship support that will fully cover the educational costs for each and every student in the program
  • Academic and career advising
  • Peer and faculty mentoring
  • Community-building activities
  • Networking opportunities and support
  • Stipends for program-related travel and study abroad opportunities
  • Alumni support and outreach
  • Access to off-campus learning and research opportunities at state-of-the-art research facilities Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory (a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory), both close partners of Stony Brook

“The power of this gift is that it is not dedicated to existing programmatic or budget needs; rather, it will exclusively support hundreds of Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars students,” said Justin Fincher, Stony Brook University Vice President for Advancement. “We are incredibly fortunate to have such a generous philanthropic partner in the Simons Foundation that understands the strength of that kind of support and is deeply committed to building this program alongside our team.”

SUNY Board Trustee Cary F. Staller said, “We are extremely grateful to Simons Foundation President David Spergel for this extraordinary partnership with Stony Brook University. President Spergel’s collaboration with Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis will establish a program to educate underrepresented scientists and mathematicians that will set a new standard of excellence and resonate throughout higher education.”

STEM careers have seen a 79 percent growth in employment in the past 30 years, making STEM one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. workforce. Yet Black and Hispanic workers only make up 17 percent of the U.S. STEM workforce, compared to 28 percent of the total workforce. Only 12 percent of full-time faculty at PhD-granting institutions are Black or Hispanic, a disparity that also exists in STEM higher education programs.

Underrepresented college and university students are also much more likely to switch from a STEM major to another course of study than their peers. Forty percent of Black STEM students switch their major during their undergraduate years, compared to 29 percent of white STEM students, and Black STEM students are also twice as likely as their white peers to leave college without a degree. Just seven percent of all STEM Bachelor’s degrees were awarded to Black students in 2018.

This $56.6 million gift is the Simons Foundation’s largest gift under new president Spergel’s leadership, building on the foundation’s commitment to improving diversity in STEM education and the STEM workforce. 

Since 2004, the foundation has given more than $200 million to Math for America, a nonprofit organization that builds communities of accomplished math and science teachers. Its New York City fellowship program represents nearly 10 percent of the city’s STEM teaching population. The organization had its most diverse incoming cohort in history in 2021 with more than 50 percent teachers of color. The foundation also made a $4 million gift to CUNY Graduate Center to diversify astrophysics education.

The Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars program is modeled after the renowned University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s (UMBC) Meyerhoff Scholars Program. For more information about the Stony Brook Simons STEM Scholars Program, visit www.stonybrook.edu/simonsscholars.

 

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1 comment

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  • I applaud the Simons Foundation for stepping up and creating this program. In many way it emulates the efforts of the previous 30+ years of the programs by Professors David Bynum (MARC) and David Ferguson (CSTEP, LSAMP, STEM Smart). Those programs were responsible for producing a significant number of underrepresented minority students who went on to earn PhDs in STEM fields. The uniqueness of the Simons model is the amount of scholarship support being offered, everything else in their model is a duplication of what NSF, NIH, and NYS programs have been offering for years on the Stony Brook campus. Sadly, government support has waned over the years so seeing the Simons Foundation step up is most gratifying. It might be prudent to talk some of the folks who administered the aforementioned programs as there is not need to reinvent the wheel. There are significant challenges with recruitment and retention to be faced no matter how much money is made available.

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