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SoMAS Dean Paul Shepson

SoMAS Dean Paul Shepson


Welcome or welcome back to SoMAS!  This is a fantastic School, full of exciting opportunities.  I know, because like some of you, I am brand new to SoMAS and Stony Brook.  I arrived in early July. When I was a dean candidate in the Fall I started learning about SoMAS.  I was quickly attracted to the great intellectual breadth of the students and faculty across our disciplines – Sustainability Studies, Atmospheric and Marine Sciences, to the opportunities represented by the connections among them, and to the passion in our students and faculty to make a difference, and to serve the planet we are graced to live on.  I am grateful to my predecessor, Larry Swanson, and all the SoMAS deans who came before, who have given so much to the great School we have become, and am humbled by the trust you have placed in me.

Since coming here I have been struck by another fantastic characteristic of SoMAS – there is a spirit of enthusiasm and positive attitude in this place, instilled and embraced by the faculty, staff, and students, and an exciting common purpose in contributing to a better world.  I immediately felt the support for my success as leader of SoMAS, and I am awed and inspired by the trust that you have placed in me, to carry this treasure forward to greater heights. I am assured that our strong spirit of teamwork will contribute both to our individual and collective successes.

Having grown up in the SUNY system (as a student at SUNY College at Cortland), I know what your investment here can and will mean to you.  It can provide you with a new passion for contributing to the world that you might not have known was possible, it will give you the self-confidence that you can take on and tackle difficult challenges, and it is likely to foster some of the best friends and colleagues you may ever have.  My experience is that you will achieve great things through partnerships with other talented and inspired people. Now is the time for you to start the process of making connections with people who can mentor and inspire you, and in turn you can reach out and contribute to the experience and success of others.  In many cases, the connections you make here at Stony Brook will be yours for life. This is indeed a great treasure.

There is much news to catch up on.  First, summer has seen the retirements of staff members John Graham, David Hirschberg, Bill Wise (formerly of SoMAS and most recently as director of New York Sea Grant), and faculty members Roger Flood and James Quigley.  Thanks to them for many years of great service to the University! We are excited about the new investment from the Governor, the SUNY Construction Fund, and SBU Critical Maintenance in a shellfish hatchery/nursery at Flax Pond Marine Laboratory, which will go a long way in elevating the stature and visibility of Flax Pond, and enabling new research.  The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) is supporting numerous studies to protect the Long Island south shore communities from storm surge flooding, improve water quality, reduce pollution, and protect fisheries. These projects are symbolic of the strong partnership SoMAS has with the people of New York State, in conducting fundamental research that contributes to protection of life and property.  We are also delighted to have established a new 10-year agreement with NYS DEC on a partnership in supporting ongoing research and observations from the R/V SEAWOLF.  

SoMAS and the University are working on constructive ways to manage our financial challenges.  This past March, President Stanley announced that the University would institute a hold on hiring and pursue restrictions on expenditures, until the University’s operating budget is brought into a sustainable balance.  While this puts a strain on all of us, we will always strive to maintain our research and teaching excellence. Despite an extremely challenging year that included some base budget cuts, SoMAS achieved a balanced budget in 17/18, drawing on retirement savings and one-time funding options. Working together, we will tackle the current financial issues and come out stronger.

I will close by sharing with you some of my priorities for the near future.  In general terms, I will invite us all to work together to significantly raise the stature of SoMAS (above its current good standing!).  We can do this in part by increasing our efforts at securing external support of our research endeavors. We have some unique strengths that I think we can leverage for a competitive edge in new federal funding opportunities.  We should go after all such opportunities with gusto! Success in this area, along with some creative approaches to funding TAs and RAs will help us build stronger and more vital graduate programs across SoMAS. I also believe that we can raise the SoMAS profile and contribute to the University’s goals through efforts to recruit greater numbers of highly capable undergraduate students, and at the same time, contribute to development of a more diverse student population in SoMAS.  Diversity is a critically important component of a successful scientific and educational enterprise. High quality education is our foundation, and must always be a top priority. As I said above, one of our strengths is in the potential for effective connections between and among all the intellectually diverse parts of SoMAS. To help ensure that we think hard about how to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, we will begin a serious strategic planning effort this fall. I am delighted by the enthusiastic response I have received regarding this effort from both faculty and staff.  I do believe that it just might be invigorating!

The bottom line for SoMAS is that our potential for leadership in the combined realms of marine and atmospheric sciences and sustainability studies is great, and that we are limited only by the extent of our own creativity, energy, and commitment.  Let’s see how far we can go, together.

Paul Shepson
Dean, School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences
Director, Marine Sciences Research Center

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