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May 3, 2016 1:22 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Stony Brook Southampton Campus Shifts Focus

Dr. Matt Whelan, the Vice President for Strategic Initiatives at the Southampton Campus.   DANA SHAW
May 3, 2016 1:49 PM

Roughly six years after massive budget cuts forced Stony Brook University officials to pull most of its academic courses from its Southampton campus, Stony Brook Southampton is in the middle of a resurgence, and is now being re-branded as a center for graduate studies.

With renewed energy being placed into the 82-acre Shinnecock Hills campus, the school now boasts more than three times the number of graduate students as in 2009, before many programs were scaled back. Undergraduate enrollment has decreased by over 400 students at the same time. That shift represents the beginning of a plan to convert the campus into a graduate haven, where students can get the specialized attention and training they need in their fields—which, in turn, has given the campus an injection of energy and a clear path for the future.

The change is part of a new plan by the university, said Dr. Matt Whelan, the vice president for strategic initiatives at Stony Brook Southampton, which is choosing to focus on three graduate-level programs that the university believes can thrive on the East End: creative writing, health studies and marine sciences.

“We are working to make sure the campus grows,” Dr. Whelan said in an interview last month. “It is an important location for us, a true gateway to the Hamptons and the arts and the culture. Certainly, health care is an educational asset for Stony Brook University, but also an important practical asset. We can now provide practitioners on the East End, and we are looking at other programs on the East End to add.”

Growth, And Growing

The campus has been a mainstay in education on the East End for decades: It was founded by Long Island University in 1963 as Southampton College. In 2005, LIU closed the campus and put the property up for sale; the State University of New York stepped in to purchase it the next year as a satellite campus for Stony Brook University. Through 2009, the SUNY system operated the campus primarily as a undergraduate institution, with dorms, campus life and several academic tracks.

In spring 2010, Stony Brook announced that, due to $82 million in budget cuts from New York State, the university was pulling its undergraduate students to the main campus starting in the fall of 2010. A few programs, including creative writing, theater and marine sciences, remained active, but the activity level on campus dropped dramatically.

The impact was significant. In the fall of 2009, one year before the switch, Stony Brook Southampton had 586 full-time undergraduate students and 106 full-time graduate students enrolled on the campus. The next year, undergraduate enrollment was scaled down to 175, a number that continued to slowly decline for the next few years; graduate studies enrollment fell only slightly, to 101. The new numbers are a fraction of the enrollment at Southampton College during its peak in the early 1960s, when there were as many as 1,500 students enrolled on campus; the 1990s saw an enrollment of 1,300, but the trend is upward again.

Since making the decision to re-brand, Stony Brook Southampton has seen a resurgence in the last two years, with the introduction of several graduate-level programs: a doctorate program in physical therapy, a master’s program in occupational therapy, a master’s in applied health informatics, and a master’s in film.

For the 2015-16 school year, the campus now has 324 graduate students and 121 undergraduates—up notably from recent years. And the college still has room to grow. According to Dr. Whelan, the college is looking to increase the number of students on campus by roughly 25 percent over the next decade, and is working to have more health-based programs approved for the campus, including a speech pathology program.

“It is remarkable to see the transformation of Stony Brook Southampton, growing into a vibrant academic community, focusing on programs that have room to grow, flourish and succeed as a pipeline for the workforce on the East End of Long Island,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “The expressed interest in the programs we offer at Southampton and this student body is a sign of how far we’ve come and a harbinger for where we are going. It’s fantastic to see such a progress in so short a period of time.”

Marine Sciences

The School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences has been a staple at the Stony Brook Southampton campus, and in September 2013 the university strengthened its relationship with the program by opening the new Marine Sciences Center on Montauk Highway, across from the campus.

The new 15,000-square-foot building is run by Director Christopher Paparo, who works with students to help them with their graduate research on site. The focus of the building is a state-of-the-art indoor seawater lab, covering 2,500 square feet, which can regulate the temperature of water to individual tanks in the building, including water being pumped straight out of Shinnecock Bay.

“Our marine science program has been an anchor program out here,” Dr. Whalen said. “They have done phenomenal research and academic research that benefits Long Island in terms of water quality, of the retreating shellfish, and in terms of brown tides and eelgrass. That work is critical for Long Island and the health of our water, the sustainability of our ecosystem, and for our economy.”

Each semester, graduate and doctoral students finish their thesis projects at the facility, while undergraduate students focusing on marine studies typically complete one semester at the campus to utilize boats and the research institute.

Creative Writing

Another staple program at Southampton is the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. The program, under director Julie Sheehan, has blossomed over the past years, with a focus on several different types of writing.

Last year, the campus became the first SUNY school to offer an MFA in film. According to Dr. Whelan, the school uses its basis in creative writing to help film students develop their projects. In its first year, 27 students took the program.

“With building our creative writing and literature programs, it seems like film might be different, but it is all about creative story telling and narrative,” Dr. Whalen said. “It’s not about groups and lighting—that is important, but if you don’t have the story, none of that matters.”

The film program is being run by Christine Vachon, the co-founder of Killer Films, one of the most prominent independent film companies in the United States, responsible for the recent Oscar-winning film “Still Alice,” which several Southampton students were able to help work on.

Health Sciences

Health Sciences is arguably where the campus has the most opportunity to grow, with a new hospital slated to be built on the campus in the next decade.

Southampton Hospital is awaiting state approval for a plan, approved last week, to partner with Stony Brook University, a deal that will bring many long-term changes for the local institution. A centerpiece of the plan includes a relocation of Southampton Hospital from Southampton Village to the 82-acre Stony Brook Southampton campus in Shinnecock Hills. The new hospital is projected to need about 13 acres and would cost an estimated $250 million to construct.

Eventually, the new hospital on campus will present new opportunities for interplay between Stony Brook’s medical school and various academic programs related to health care. But Stony Brook already has been adding medical programs to the campus since the graduate switch.

Currently, there are three classes of students in the doctorate program in physical therapy at the campus, two classes of occupational therapy, and a second class of applied health informatics coming to the campus.

Recently, the college has worked to revamp the health science classrooms, with new high-tech tools to practice techniques—programs that will only grow as the relationship with local doctors grows.

“I am fully convinced the programs we have here inform each other,” Dr. Whelan said. “Art informs health care, marine sciences informs health care, health care informs marine science. They really come together quite naturally. We are building a world-class graduate center for education.”

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"World-class graduate center for education." ~ I really hope so.
Southampton College alum~ 2nd graduating class '68, '74
Founding Member of SAVE.
By Hamptonsseashell (359), on May 4, 16 6:12 PM
Re -construct the LIRR Station for the upcoming US Open and then maintain it for the future SUNY and hospital expansion- that will help grow student enrollment and use as a launch pad for shuttle trains to the east end.
By Lion (176), southampton on May 4, 16 8:39 PM
Sam Stanley and Matt Whelan can try there best to erase the past but they will be forever be marked as the two catalysts that lead to the complete destruction of hundreds of undergraduate students who were forced to change their careers...and in some cases their entire lives...due to the closing of Stony Brook Southampton six years ago. The Press uses the word 'resurgence' several times throughout the article...and yet the Southampton campus does not make any money for taxpayers...and only a few ...more
By PaulSchwartz (1), Southampton on May 4, 16 10:26 PM
A "resurgence" of this campus is vital to any kind of youth remaining in the Hamptons and the employment opportunities created by a legitimate hospital will help greatly in a community filled with part time summer jobs.
By Mouthampton (340), Southampton on May 5, 16 12:06 AM