Southampton College Campus Reborn as Graduate Center


Stony Brook University Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Dr. Matt Whelan, in dark suit, was joined by Dr. Craig Lehmann, Dean of the School of Health Technology and Management and Margaret Sheryll, Southampton campus operations manager for the Department of Physical Therapy, as they spoke with Stony Brook Southampton graduate students in the campus library. Michael Heller photos

By Stephen J. Kotz

Seven years ago when Stony Brook University pulled back from its commitment to run a full complement of undergraduate programs on the former campus of Southampton College, it looked as though the end was near for the little school just west of Southampton Village.

But thanks to the persistence of the campus’s established programs in fine arts and marine sciences, and the ambitious launch of new programs in the health sciences, the Stony Brook Southampton campus has found a new lease on life as a center for graduate studies.

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley, Stony Brook’s president “wanted to see this turn into a center of excellence for graduate education in the health sciences,” said Dr. Matt Whelan, Stony Brook’s vice president for strategic initiatives, who noted the goal dovetails with the recent merger of Southampton and Stony Brook University hospitals and the long-term goal of building a new hospital facility on the campus. “We already had the marine sciences; we already had the master’s of fine arts,” he said, “so adding the health science programs at the graduate level is really just the third leg of the stool.”

“The sort of headline here is ‘high-demand, high-need programs’ that have the reputation as being among the best in the nation,” he continued.

The approach seems to be working. In 2010, before Stony Brook lost $82 million in funding as the state struggled during the recession, nearly 700 students were on the campus, most of them enrolled in undergraduate programs that were in place when Stony Brook bought the school after Long Island University announced it was closing Southampton College in 2005.

By the fall of 2011, after most undergraduate programs were sent back to the main campus, Southampton’s total enrollment was reduced by more than half. It reached a low point of 196 students during the 2011-12 academic year before beginning to rebound, Dr. Whelan said. Last year, he said the campus had about 590 students, the lion’s share of them in one of the three graduate programs.

The resurgence has been largely spurred by the introduction in 2013 of the first health science curriculum: a doctoral program in physical therapy. That has been since augmented by master’s programs in occupational therapy and applied health informatics, a new discipline that focuses on how health care information is acquired, stored and retrieved to improve patient care and manage costs. This year, a new master’s program in health care administration, which will include online courses and face-to-face meetings, will be introduced.

Dr. Whelan said Stony Brook is “exploring” a physician’s assistant program, orthotics and prosthetics, and speech language pathology and has applied to the state for approval of all three.

“Academic excellence is the first driver; the second driver is do we have the facilities and the space to promote academic excellence?” said Dr. Whelan. “Out here we really are designing the space and rehabbing the space to fit the programs we are putting out here.”

While Stony Brook has invested heavily in converting space for its new health sciences offerings, it has not overlooked its other programs. Four years ago, it opened a $10 million marine science building with state-of-the-art laboratories across the street from the main campus.

It was not always an easy sell to convince students to come east, said Dr. Craig Lehmann, dean of Stony Brook’s School of Health Technology and Management. When Stony Brook got the ball rolling by moving some of its physical therapy students to Southampton four years ago. “They were crying, ‘We don’t want to go out there. We came to Stony Brook. We want to go to a big university,’” he said. “That first year was tough. What I hear now is they love it out here.”

The 82-acre campus tucked off Montauk Highway and Tuckahoe Lane in Shinnecock Hills remains a quiet place, with more Eastern cedar trees lining the sidewalks than people walking on them. That tranquility appealed to a number of students, who took part in a group interview this week.

“I wanted someplace small and intimate to receive my education,” said Sheri Egert of Manorville, a 31-year-old occupational therapy student, who said she was the first member of her family to attend college. “It was a huge comfort to me to be provided with the option of coming to school here and feeling at home while pursuing something as major as my education.”

William Hau, who received a bachelor of science degree in health science at Stony Brook’s main campus, is one of a handful of students who live on campus. “The first week I was here I had met half the people already,” he said.

Although only between 30 and 60 people are living on campus at any one time, there is space to house up to 244 students in six different renovated dormitories, Dr. Whelan said. Several other former dormitories are closed, waiting to be refurbished or demolished.

While there may not be many students living on campus yet, those who are there, can eat better than most college students. The Amagansett Food Institute’s South Fork Kitchens Café provides the food service, serving meals based on locally sourced and seasonally available foods. The institute also makes the café’s commercial kitchen available to small East End food entrepreneurs, who would otherwise have no place to prepare their products for sale.

The campus has also continued the kind of community outreach that the old Southampton College offered, Dr. Whelan said, by hosting music, theater, lectures and other public events. “It’s all in keeping with Stony Brook University’s mission to embrace community,” he said.

The windmill and original main hall at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus.

Hospital Merger Helps Spur Growth in Campus’s Health Science Offerings

Health sciences, the latest addition to Stony Brook Southampton’s offerings, had a humble start in 2013 when just 14 doctoral students in physical therapy arrived on campus, but it has quickly grown to become the largest graduate program there.

A year later, master’s programs in occupational therapy and applied health informatics, a discipline that focuses on managing health care information to improve patient care and reduce costs, were added. This year, a master’s degree in health administration will be launched, and officials are seeking state approvals to expand with physician’s assistant, speech language pathology, and orthotics and prosthetics programs.

Last year, there were 267 students enrolled in the three graduate programs, and Dr. Craig Lehmann, the dean of the Stony Brook’s School of Health Technology and Management, projects that number will double in five years.

Dr. Lehmann said the recent merger of Southampton and Stony Brook University hospitals and the long-term plan to build a new hospital on a portion of the 82-acre campus helped drive the decision to expand health science programs.

“The people here need a new hospital for sure,” he said. “It’s not only the students we are bringing out here, but we are bringing out the faculty too. When we have the hospital by us they will come out here to teach and do health care. It’ll be a great benefit to our area.”

Cara LoBianco, 24, a 2015 graduate of the University of Rhode Island who is studying for a doctorate in physical therapy, said despite the program’s rapid growth, it retains a strong sense of community.

When she came for her interview, she said a large pool of applicants had gathered in the campus library, where they were able to socialize with first-year students, while second-year students took part in the actual interview process. “Everyone was so friendly and always putting themselves out there,” she said. “I hadn’t been accepted yet, but I felt like I was part of the family.”

Dr. Matt Whelan, Stony Brook University’s vice president for strategic initiatives, said the plan is also to provide options for those looking for a career change. The health administration program, which will begin this year with 30 students and is expected to double in size by next year, is one effort in that direction, he said.

The program will be largely offered online, though students will meet at key times during the semester and be mentored one-on-one by faculty members. “It’s a perfect program for working professionals,” Dr. Whelan said.

“People understand health care is a necessity, but it’s also a business,” said Dr. Matt Whelan, Stony Brook University’s vice president for strategic initiatives. “We need to understand those essential services.”

Marine Sciences Provides Anchor to Campus

The Stony Brook Southampton campus boasts a $10 million waterfront building and access to a small fleet of research vessels for its highly regarded marine science program.

The 15,000-square-foot building offers state-of-the-art labs, a 2,500-square-foot indoor seawater lab, and office space.

Chris Paparo, who studied marine science at the former Southampton College, has managed the facility since its opening. He said this week Southampton is home to about two dozen graduate students as well as the labs of Dr. Christopher Gobler, who is well known for his work on water quality issues; Brad Peterson, a sea grass ecologist; and Joe Warren, an acoustical oceanographer, who maps fish and plankton populations.

While most of the campus is dedicated to graduate programs, marine sciences still offers a very popular alternative for undergraduates: the Semester at Sea program, which approximately 24 juniors sign up for each semester. During their semester, the visiting students get the opportunity to go out on the water to take part in hands-on research. A handful of other undergraduates also take some classes at the campus, he said.

The marine sciences program also hosts a two-week summer oceanography class that offers 28 high school students the opportunity to earn three college credits. “It’s booked solid every summer,” he said, noting that the class is limited to 28 students, the capacity of the largest research boat. One-day educational outings for up to 1,200 high school students are held each summer, and the facility rents its boats to a number of environmental groups as well, he said.

MFA Program Expanding Its Horizons

Anyone with even a passing interest in Stony Brook Southampton knows about its master of fine arts program in creative writing, which offers classes in fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. What they may not know is the program has been expanding its reach in recent years.

The first SUNY master’s program in filmmaking, under the direction of Christine Vachon, a founder of Killer Films — an independent film company in New York —was added two years ago, and programs in television writing and podcasts are on the way. The filmmaking program is giving the campus an important link to Manhattan and its thriving arts scene, he said.

“One of the challenges of being a satellite campus is there is always a challenge for resources,” said Robert Reeves, the associate provost for the graduate arts programs, who noted the MFA has been staple of the Southampton campus since Stony Brook University arrived in 2005. “On the other hand, the good news is we have autonomy. Because we are an entrepreneurial program, we are very agile. We grow programs all the time.”

Joanna Anderson, a former journalist who covered Congress in Washington, D.C., said she chose Southampton to pursue a master’s degree in creative writing because of its small size and the peace and quiet afforded by the campus. “While the program is definitely growing and thriving, it also has that intimacy and community feel,” she said.

It also encourages creative cross pollination. “The program’s boarders are porous,” she said. “So even I you are in fiction, you can dabble in poetry.”

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