It’s All Academic
By enhancing connections and support for faculty,
SBU’s new provost looks to propel student success
By Ellen Cooke
Talking to Paul M. Goldbart, it’s hard not to be inspired about the future of higher education and the contributions Stony Brook University stands poised to make in our communities. Spend time with the people who work with SBU’s new chief academic officer, and the excitement is contagious, the roadmap clear.
SBU’s provost since March, Goldbart has a vision for the university that’s centered on students; fueled by faculty excellence; and focused on holistic approaches that serve current and future needs.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve shone a light on remarkable things large academic and research institutions can do to make society better,” said Goldbart. “It’s time to remind the world we are places of enormous value. We are places where innovations happen and where people’s lives are transformed. We have to find the areas where the future lies and not be shy about defining that future.”
That starts and ends, he said, with our intense commitment to students and faculty that stretches beyond the classroom and even career choices.
Students and Faculty First
“Students often come here not knowing what they’re looking for, what opportunities they have in the world, how they can contribute to society and find fulfillment in their lives and careers,” Goldbart said. “With our guidance and career services, teachers and advisors, we help people discover who they are, what matters to them, how they can contribute to humanity and reach their full potential. That’s our incredible mission at Stony Brook. And what an amazing thing to be part of.”
According to Goldbart, much of that rests on students’ ability to access “terrifically high-quality education, where faculty are equipped with support and structure that enable them to really shine in the classroom.”
Toward this end, Goldbart is hosting a series of introductory luncheons with faculty and staff. His office has also joined with others to launch a newly designated ‘Connections’ lounge in the Charles B. Wang Center where faculty and staff members can gather informally or make reservations to meet among themselves. An emerging leaders program will help a select group of faculty broaden their career horizons as Stony Brook grows its internal talent. And, a new website will showcase career development resources for early career, mid-career, retiring and emeriti faculty.
“I’m fascinated by the whole arc of a faculty member’s career, from when they arrive through to the culminating stages,” he said. “We want to help people find a remarkably fulfilling path that also delivers for the university. We want to see all faculty provide the very highest caliber of instruction, try new things, be bold and adventurous. We want to help them build careers that involve service, public engagement and community enhancement.
“We’re also thinking hard about experiences for our emeriti, people who’ve devoted their lives and selves to the university. We should ensure we’re a place that’s welcoming, nurturing and encouraging, while harnessing all their talents,” Goldbart added.
Focused on the Future
Attracting diverse faculty is another key part of Goldbart’s vision. “Research shows when you bring together people with diverse experiences in teams, they’re more creative and have bolder ideas,” he said. “We are committed to nurturing an environment that values fairness, taps into the full talent pool and creates communities that are even better at solving problems.”
Goldbart likes to look beyond where potential students and professors currently are and, instead, to where they’re headed. “Some candidates are like diamonds in the rough. They may have areas for growth and improvement. But they’ve shown their ability to overcome obstacles and succeed without opportunities others may have had. That’s their ‘hidden power.’ These people have the potential to change the way the world thinks and, in so doing, change the way the world thinks about Stony Brook University,” he said.
He is also seeking to continuously refresh and build interdisciplinary programs; ensure a healthy pipeline of education from elementary school through high school, college and beyond with new strategic initiatives; and expand our already strong partnership with Brookhaven National Laboratory.
Transforming Graduate Education
While Goldbart’s time at Stony Brook can still be measured in months, colleagues are already feeling the impact and energy behind his vision. Along with President Maurie McInnis, who has been at SBU since July 2020, Goldbart is showing his dedication to transforming graduate education, according to Eric Wertheimer, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for graduate and professional education.
“There’s a tremendous sense of responsibility toward making sure graduate programs and students flourish, with an unprecedented amount of attention to their well-being,” he said. “Paul’s made it clear we’re working together on doing all things better, placing students at the center of all our efforts, which I’m enormously excited about. He’s also given me space to think about what would make our grad programs stand out nationally and I think, with the critical help of faculty and staff, we’re heading in that direction.”
He added that the two connect especially deeply on “the relationship between diversity and research excellence. We’re looking to change students’ lives for the better, and we’re focused on programs that put them in positions to succeed in high-level research and contribute to knowledge production in as many ways as possible.” Much of that important work happens in the Center for Inclusive Education, which is a guiding part of the Graduate School.
The Graduate School is also planning to expand master’s degree offerings; enhance its marketing and recruitment efforts; and develop a cutting-edge curriculum in new, multi-disciplinary ways.
Most importantly, Wertheimer said, “With Paul and Maurie’s leadership, we’re making the financial and infrastructural investments that put students first.”
“It’s time to remind the world we are places of enormous value. We are places where innovations happen and where people’s lives are transformed. We have to find the areas where the future lies and not be shy about defining that future.”
– Paul Goldbart
On the undergraduate side, Vice Provost for Curriculum and Undergraduate Education Elizabeth Newman feels momentum building around greater student/faculty engagement.
“There are a lot of new ideas in the works,” she said, “where students will be able to interact with faculty members in small, interdisciplinary groups on future challenges that can’t be solved by one area alone, such as climate change. This exposes more students to more faculty and addresses the idea that big problems require collaboration, communication and cooperation.”
In her new, centralized role as vice provost for curriculum since January, Newman is also working with colleagues to simplify and expedite the state approval process for new academic program proposals.
“Getting approval has been extremely slow, opaque and a universal frustration for faculty,” she explained. She added that leadership saw the problem and quickly addressed it. Working more closely with SUNY colleagues, her new team streamlined proposal development, which previously took upwards of two years from start to finish. Her department is also offering faculty greater support in submitting academic program proposals through a new online curriculum submission and tracking system piloting with the Graduate School this fall.
Another area of concentration is to help the university continue its trajectory of rising graduation and retention rates. Through programs like Finish in 4, “We’ve moved our graduation rate up 18 percentage points since 2014. The new administration clearly values that.”
Mainly, Newman said, “It’s been a joy to find myself in a place where leaders are so profoundly committed to all of my own inclinations. There’s a great deal of enthusiasm and we’re all swimming along in the same stream toward academic excellence.”
Dedicated to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mónica Bugallo is equally enthusiastic about the new provost’s plan of action. “It’s inclusive and supports and empowers our community at all levels — faculty, students and staff. I’m excited about Stony Brook becoming a stronger community and us all being part of the university’s powerful mission.”
As both an advocate and role model for diversity at Stony Brook, she also sees a stronger than ever commitment to our values of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Bugallo was appointed the first associate dean for diversity and outreach for the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences in 2019 and has served as faculty director of the Women in Science and Engineering Honors Program since 2016. She said one of her goals is to “spark motivation and inspire curiosity among young women and underserved community members to consider STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] as a field of study and career path.”
Bugallo is continuously seeking opportunities to strengthen the impact of Stony Brook programs, as well as the community of diverse and underrepresented populations at the university and in surrounding regions. Like her colleagues, she feels “a renewed and refreshing dedication across Stony Brook to creating a more welcoming culture where everyone belongs” through new initiatives, activities and training opportunities.
“There’s a lot of new energy and inspiration in leadership,” she said. “It feels like a new beginning, with a greater synergy among all members of our community. There’s a very strong message that we’re partners and we’re forging the future together.”
Ellen Cooke is Associate Director of Internal Communications, Office of Marketing and Communications