Uniting Alumni Across the Miles
The move to virtual events increases alumni participation, creating new opportunities for future engagement.
By Kate O’Brien and Kristen Brennan
Christina Geraci ’04 is one of 200,000 Stony Brook University alumni worldwide. And like her fellow Seawolves, her ongoing connection to the Stony Brook community has been invaluable.
“The relationships I’ve maintained within the Stony Brook community have had such a strong impact in my life,” said Geraci, principal court attorney with the New York State Unified Court System. “Former classmates, friends, professors, alumni…they’ve all given me the confidence to take chances and push myself harder. And that’s helped shape my life in so many positive ways. I have especially appreciated those friendships even more during this past year. Being able to connect, even virtually, with my alumni community has been so helpful.”
Mentorships, internships, networking opportunities, ongoing career support and lifelong friendships are some of the countless benefits of being a “Seawolf for life.”
And thanks to the Alumni Relations team and the Alumni Association, those benefits have continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When we realized just how serious the pandemic had become, transitioning our programs to a virtual platform was an easy decision to make,” said Deborah Lowen-Klein, interim vice president for advancement. “We just knew we would have to think creatively about how the Alumni Relations team could best connect with our alumni virtually and maintain a community of support for them during such uncertain times.”
Building Community and Enriching Lives
Community-building programs the past year have included virtual class reunions, health sciences discussions, virtual 5Ks, trivia and game nights, a book club and “STAY HOMEcoming”— a week of special events encouraging connection across the university community. Working closely with the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), the Alumni Association collaboratively hosted 20 CAS faculty-led discussions on topics ranging from the 2020 election to the impact of COVID-19 on the Autism community. Alumni also joined virtual forums to address critical issues such as racism and social justice. Following the death of George Floyd, the Black and Latino Alumni Network and the Renaissance School of Medicine Black and Latinx Alumni/Students Network created a system of mentoring and support, establishing forums designed to encourage open and honest dialogue among students and alumni.
Virtual events have been especially helpful for alumni who live far away or have been too busy in their careers and their lives to return to campus.
Aisha Haynes, PhD ’08, has a high-pressure job as a research mechanical engineer assigned to the U.S. Army DEVCOM Armaments Center, leaving her little time to participate in alumni events. But last year, she was able to participate in the virtual 2020 SBUHacks event.
“I was happy to be able to connect with other alumni and the students who were participating,” said Haynes. “It can be hard as a student to put yourself out there and open yourself up to feedback, so I was glad I was able to help them by sharing some of my experience and providing constructive and honest critique. SBU Hacks helped me feel a part of the SBU community again.”
Alumni could also tap into academic resources on campus for an even broader range of enriching learning opportunities. Topics included the effects of COVID-19 on individuals’ mental health; parenting during the pandemic; election predictions from Stony Brook experts; and industry-specific programs co-sponsored by colleges and schools throughout the university. Many of these programs have been recorded and can be found on the university’s website.
These events have been widely attended by alumni around the world.
Carlo Piraino ’91 DNP, RN, chief nurse at Taiba Hospital in Sabah al Salem, Kuwait, was grateful for the opportunity to keep his skills up to date and connect with his alma mater.
We’re Here for You
Despite the distance created by the pandemic, no matter how far we are apart, Stony Brook is always here for Seawolves.
Save the date for these events:
Virtual Discovery Prize Competition
Virtual Stars of Stony Brook Gala
Virtual 50th Reunion
Virtual Investiture Ceremony for Stan Uryasev, PhD, Frey Family Foundation Chair in Quantitative Finance
Alumni Scholarship Golf Classic
Click here to find more information or to register for one or many of these events.
The alumni support teams continue to provide opportunities for alumni to connect with one another and with the university.
“I work as a chief nurse here in Kuwait at a private facility, so it is always a blessing when I can catch some U.S.-based education, whether it is nursing- and healthcare-related or not,” said Piraino. “I am most appreciative of the virtual programs offered by Stony Brook, as they allow me the chance to hear and learn new things and in turn take what is new and relevant to my staff here in Kuwait.”
Many alumni like Piraino, who are miles from Long Island, rely on social media to stay connected. The university’s social media channels have proven to be an ideal format for many of the virtual programs this past year.
A live Hispanic Heritage Month event, presented on Facebook by the Alumni Association and the Black and Latino Alumni Network, featured “Noche De Arte” — an evening of virtual live performances by students and alumni.
Viewed by 1,000 attendees, the event was one of the most viewed livestream events ever on the Alumni channel and elicited hundreds of enthusiastic comments from attendees. “These young people are inspiring and give me life,” noted one alumnus.
Connections that Build
The inspiration that results from interactions between students and alumni reverberates throughout all corners of the university.
“Of course, the primary objectives of Stony Brook’s alumni team are to engage alumni, connect them with one another and with the university, and to foster a lasting connection that will serve our alumni well throughout their lives,” said Robert J. deBrauwere ‘87, Esq, president of the Alumni Association and a partner at Pryor Cashman LLP. “But what’s so great is just how much those connections continue to enrich the university as well, in tangible and intangible ways.”
Through volunteering and philanthropy, alumni have made a lasting impact on campus — from students and faculty to academic programs and Stony Brook Medicine. In the midst of the pandemic, a time when many alumni have been suffering hardships themselves, alumni giving has been transformative.
On October 8, Stony Brook’s second annual Giving Day, alumni came forward in droves to support the areas on campus that matter most to them, making more than 40 percent of the thousands of gifts received that day. The university is now preparing for its third giving day, scheduled for April 21.
Alumni are equally generous in spirit. Whether they are helping a fellow alum navigate the job market upon graduation or returning to campus for a class reunion or for homecoming, Stony Brook’s alumni bring enthusiasm and energy to the Stony Brook University community in ways only they could. And even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, that generosity of spirit has shined through.
“These connections create mutually beneficial and lasting relationships,” said deBrauwere. “That’s really what it’s all about.”
Kate O’Brien is the Senior Development Writer for Advancement Communications
Kristen Brennan is the Alumni Digital Engagement Coordinator for Alumni Relations