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Alumni Journeys

Stony Brook alumni know that their degree creates boundless opportunities for career success. Read more about the paths they have taken below.

Seeking Solutions

Derek Peterson

Derek Peterson

For Derek Peterson ’88, there’s no puzzle that can’t be solved.

It’s this way of thinking that led Peterson, CEO and founder of Soter Technologies, to create his Digital Fly product line. This line includes Fly Sense, transformative technology that is the world’s first patented vaping and bullying detection alert system for schools. The company, founded in 2017, also develops and delivers innovative solutions for environmental and social intelligence.

As new challenges have arisen, Peterson’s problem-solving skills have continued to evolve. When faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the alumnus quickly started looking for a solution, and he came up with the SymptomSense™ Screening Evaluation Gateway. Modeled after a metal detector, this device monitors key vitals, including blood oxygen, as individuals enter buildings, schools and event venues, reducing the threat of mass infection. Already in use in New York City, the device is available worldwide. 

Peterson’s work has gained global attention, making him and his creations the subject of features on NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America and numerous media outlets throughout the country and around the world. Still, no matter how far Peterson’s success takes him from his days as a student in the Department of Computer Science, he remains connected to Stony Brook. He’s been a partner and judge of Stony Brook’s Wolfie Tank, which fosters entrepreneurship on campus (which he judged virtually this past February). 

“Wolfie Tank creates a perfect forum for young people to bring their business and product ideas to experts and veteran business leaders,” said Peterson. “The concepts the students present are impressive and provide creative solutions to an interesting array of challenges. I always welcome the opportunity to participate and encourage young people to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit.”

With the future generation in mind, Peterson established the Lewis M. Peterson Technical Endowed Scholarship in 2018 with his friend David Ferguson, Distinguished Service Professor of Technology and Society and Applied Mathematics and Statistics at Stony Brook. Ferguson, who passed away in 2019, was a passionate advocate for building diversity and inclusion, a purpose both he and Peterson shared. The scholarship — awarded for the first time this academic year — supports underrepresented students in the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program.


President with a Purpose

Congratulations to alumna Milagros “Milly” Peña ’86, PhD ’90 on becoming the sixth president of Purchase College this past fall. She is the first Hispanic woman to lead a State University of New York college. Previously, she served for five years as dean of the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at University of California at Riverside. Peña earned her master’s and PhD in sociology from Stony Brook University. She also was the first in her family not only to graduate from college, but also to receive a high school diploma, having grown up in Manhattan as the daughter of Dominican immigrants. 

Given her experience, she has a deep understanding of the power and importance of education as well as the arts, as they shaped her education and academic career, making her the ideal choice to lead Purchase College. Her personal experience has driven her throughout her career to

milly pena

Milagros “Milly” Peña ’86, PhD ’90

determinedly pursue and promote cross-disciplinary scholarship, advance diversity and inclusion, and stress the importance of higher education institutions as community pillars.

Peña has a long history of scholarship and mentoring. Before joining UC Riverside, she spent 16 years at the University of Florida, where she served as faculty — director of the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research and ultimately as associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Integral to her role as president, Peña is focusing on connecting with her community and getting to know her students. Follow her journey @PurchasePres.

“While the journey to my success was paved by the love of my parents and grandmother, I also was graced with great mentors at Stony Brook. Professors Michael Schwartz and Judy Tanur in particular inspired me to embrace my potential with their expectations for excellence and their support for students with my background.”

– Milly Peña ’86, PhD ’90, President, Purchase College


Advocating for Others

diane Acosta

Diana Acosta ’06, ’07

Since 2011, Diana Acosta ’06,’ 07 has advocated for marginalized populations around the world to ensure they have access to quality and equitable social services and that their human rights are protected and promoted.

And it was the help she received from Stony Brook that gave her the skills and confidence to chart a career in foreign affairs and global health. As a student, she quickly learned the importance of community, finding support in a dedicated network of mentors and professors. After facing some challenges with her chosen course of study, she sought guidance from her mentors, who helped her find a way to marry her love of healthcare with her desire to help others. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in health science and a master’s degree in public policy, she has found a more fulfilling — and wildly successful — career than she ever could have imagined — deputy division chief of the Empowerment and Inclusion Division at the U.S. Agency for International Development. 

Acosta’s work has not gone unnoticed. In addition to her being a member of the inaugural class of the Stony Brook’s 40 Under Forty program in 2014, last year she was named a 2020 Latino National Security and Foreign Policy Next Generation Leader by the Diversity in National Security Network and New America. 

“If there’s anything 2020 has taught me, it’s that being nimble and flexible is key,” she said. “My resolve to promote and protect the human rights of often-marginalized populations is stronger than ever.”

Read more about Diana Acosta

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