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Stony Brook University

SBU: History and Timeline

Information and Resources about the History of Stony Brook University.

Honorary Degree Recipients


Alan Alda, Doctor of Fine Arts
Tarana Burke, Doctor of Humane Letters
Greg Marshall, Doctor of Science


Atefeh Riazi, Doctor of Science | Doctoral Graduation and Hooding Ceremony 

Atefeh Riazi is a leader and an innovator in information technology, a dedicated humanitarian and an advocate for women’s rights. As the United Nations’ chief information technology officer and assistant secretary-general, she is committed to finding ways to use technology for the greater good of humanity. A Stony Brook graduate, she is an inspiration to students and fellow alumni as a shining example of where a Stony Brook degree can take you.

In 1977, at the age of 16, Riazi moved to the United States after fleeing Tehran, Iran. She was determined to succeed in her new life and followed her older sister to Stony Brook University, where in 1979 she enrolled in the electrical engineering program. She was one of only three women in her class, graduating in 1984 with her bachelor’s in engineering degree.    

After graduation, Riazi started her professional career with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in New York City. During her 16 years at the MTA, she held various progressively responsible positions, including chief information officer, in which she played a pivotal role in bringing the MetroCard to fruition. Following the MTA, she held chief information officer positions at Oglivy and Mather and the New York City Housing Authority.

In 2009, Riazi founded CIO’s Without Borders, a global not-for-profit organization focused on using technology to provide education, healthcare and infrastructure services to underserved areas around the globe.  

In 2013, she was named chief information technology officer for the United Nations, with responsibility for all of the organization’s needs relating to information and communications technology. This role works hand in hand with her desire to improve the quality of life for all people through the 
dissemination of knowledge and technology.  

Riazi is also passionate about women’s rights. As a young girl in Iran, she was fortunate that her parents believed in equal education, but she saw firsthand how other girls, including her mother, were denied access to education. Riazi encourages equal access for all and is determined to inspire more young women to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

For Atefeh Riazi’s dedication to innovation and her passion for improving our quality of life, the State University of New York is proud to bestow upon her the honorary degree of Doctor of Science.

Tracy K. Smith, Doctor of Letters | Main Commencement Ceremony

Tracy K. Smith is an acclaimed poet, author and educator dedicated to sharing her passion for poetry and prose with the world. Her work has been revered for its ability to forge connections, blending personal observations on pop culture with weightier universal themes such as science and religion. In her role as the 22nd poet laureate to the Library of Congress for the United States she traveled the country, raising awareness of poetry and its value in our culture.

Smith’s love of poetry began at an early age, when she first read Emily Dickinson in the fifth grade. She continued studying her craft as a major in English, American Literature and Afro-American Studies at Harvard University. While at Harvard, she joined the “Dark Room Collective,” a reading series for writers of color. After graduating from Harvard, she went on to receive her MFA from Columbia University in 2003. That same year, Smith published her first collection of poetry, The Body’s Questions. This work earned the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, a first-book award bestowed to black poets of African descent. Four short years later, her second collection,Duende, also received critical acclaim, earning the James Laughlin Award and the Essence Literary Award. Her third collection, Life on Mars, reached the pinnacle of success as it was recognized with the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. Her latest poetry collection, Wade in the Water, was published in the spring.

While poetry is her most frequent medium, Smith has branched out to other areas as well. In 2015, she published Ordinary Light: A Memoir, a work that focused on her mother’s lost battle with cancer and also Smith’s childhood experiences growing up in a black family in suburban California. She is also collaborating on operas with two different composers.

In addition to being an award-winning poet, Smith is a respected educator. She taught at Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York, the University of Pittsburgh, Columbia University, and currently, she is professor of the humanities and director of the creative writing program at Princeton University.

Smith began her tenure as the 22nd poet laureate last fall. She has spent the past few months on connecting with people from all walks of life to encourage a new appreciation for the power and impact of poetry.

For the tremendous impact Tracy K. Smith has had on the world as a poet and as an educator, the State University of New York is honored to award her the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Michael J. Fox
Prince Emmanuel de Merode
Jonathan Oringer
Arthur Kramer
Frank Shu


Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Eric H. Holder, Jr., the 82nd Attorney General of the United States of America, served under the leadership of President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2015. He was the first African American to be named Attorney General.

Originally from the Bronx, New York, Holder graduated from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan before attending Columbia University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in American History. During that time, he started mentoring local children and became active in civil rights. He then pursued his JD at Columbia Law School, where he spent a summer working for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. His early commitment to civil rights would stay with him throughout his long career.

After graduating with his law degree, Holder joined the U.S. Justice Department’s new Public Integrity Section, but it wasn’t long before he was tapped by President Ronald Reagan to serve as a judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Holder as United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, the first African American to hold that position. In 1997, President Clinton nominated Holder to be Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno, a position for which he was confirmed by a unanimous vote. At that time, he was the highest-ranking African American in law enforcement in the history of the United States.

After the end of his appointment under Reno, Holder worked in the private sector before joining then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign as senior legal advisor, and later served on Obama’s vice presidential selection committee. In 2008, President Obama nominated Holder for Attorney General, praising his “toughness and independence.” His nomination was approved by an overwhelming majority vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee. During his six years as Attorney General, Holder led the U.S. Department of Justice longer than all but three previous attorneys general. In that role, he was widely praised for his determination to thwart terrorism, to fight violent crime, to safeguard the environment, to protect vulnerable populations, to ensure civil rights and to maintain national security.

As the first African American Attorney General, Holder embodies the progress and values of our country. For his dedication to justice and for his commitment to protecting the rights of all citizens of the United States, the State University of New York is privileged to award Eric H. Holder, Jr. the honorary degree of Doctor of Law. 

Soledad O’Brien

Soledad O’Brien is a respected broadcast journalist, news anchor, documentarian, executive producer and philanthropist who has become a fixture in global news.

Maria de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien was raised in St. James, New York, a community only a few miles from the Stony Brook Campus. She and her five siblings all attended Harvard University. Soon after O’Brien graduated, she began her reporting career in Boston. In 1991, she joined NBC News, and by 1997, she was anchoring programs such as Weekend Today. In 2003, she joined CNN, where she distinguished herself by reporting from the scene of such stories as the London terrorism attacks in 2005, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

In 2011, O’Brien won her first Emmy Award for “Crisis in Haiti.” She was also a member of the teams that earned CNN a George Foster Peabody award for coverage of the British oil petroleum spill and of Katrina. She has also received accolades for her recent noteworthy documentaries, including Black in America: The New Promised Land; Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11; and Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door.

But O’Brien was not satisfied with only reporting the news; she needed to act. After witnessing the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, O’Brien and her husband, Brad Raymond, began privately awarding scholarships to young women who lacked essential resources to succeed. As their efforts grew, they formed the Starfish Foundation to expand their reach. Today, the foundation provides scholarships to disadvantaged young women in underserved communities. To date, they have provided support to 28 young women.

O’Brien’s ties to Stony Brook University run deep. Her father, Edward O’Brien, is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering; he has been on the faculty since 1961. She has participated in the School of Journalism’s “My Life As...” series, discussing her life as a CNN anchor, and in 2015 she brought her Black in America tour, which focused on key issues facing minority communities today, to campus.

Her commitment to making a difference is reflected in all her work, in front of and behind the camera. For her selfless devotion to those less fortunate and her passion for reporting the truth, the State University of New York is proud to bestow upon Soledad O’Brien the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.


William Martin Joel, better known as Billy Joel, is an American pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer who has received 23 GRAMMY® Award nominations, six GRAMMY® Awards and the prestigious GRAMMY® Legend Award and is one of most popular recording artists and respected entertainers in history. Throughout the years, Joel’s songs have acted as personal and cultural touchstones for millions of people, mirroring his own goal of writing songs that "meant something during the time in which I lived … and transcended that time.” He has sold more than 150 million records over the past quarter century, making him the sixth best-selling recording artist of all time, the third best-selling solo artist and he is one of the highest grossing touring artists in the world. In December 2013, Joel received The Kennedy Center Honors, one of the United States top cultural awards. In 2013, Billy Joel was established as the first-ever music franchise at Madison Square Garden, joining the Garden¹s other franchises including the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty.  In 2014, Joel received both The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song and the once-in-a-century ASCAP Centennial Award. He has been inducted into the Songwriter¹s Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Billy Joel was honored by Steinway & Sons with a painted portrait that hangs in Steinway Hall in Manhattan. Joel, who has been a Steinway Artist for almost 20 years, is the first non-classical pianist to be immortalized in the Steinway Hall collection.  ”Movin' Out," a Broadway musical based on his music choreographed and directed by Twyla Tharp, took home two Tony Awards, including Best Orchestrations –  Joel¹s first Tony Award win – and Best Choreography. Joel has also performed alongside other music greats at two of Madison Square Garden¹s most extraordinary benefit concerts ­ “12-12-12, The Concert For Sandy Relief,” which raised awareness and money for those affected by Hurricane Sandy and “The Concert for New York City,” which was held to help aid 9/11 victims and heroes. Throughout his career, Joel has made it a personal mission to give back to New York and Long Island, and his connection to his home is evident throughout his music with album titles evoking New York places and themes, including “Cold Spring Harbor,” “Streetlife Serenade,” “Turnstiles,” and “52nd Street.” One of his most beloved songs, “New York State of Mind,” has become an anthem for the state. Over the years, Billy Joel has been very generous to Stony Brook University. After two Steinway grand pianos at the Staller Center for the Arts were damaged in a flood, Joel donated one of his own pianos, his second such donation to the University, valued at $250,000, and today, Stony Brook University stands in company with Billy Joel as fellow inductees into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame.

Ben Shneiderman, a two-time Stony Brook University alumnus and Distinguished University Professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, is a world renowned computer scientist who has transformed the computer science field. He is a member of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS) and Founding Director of the Human Computer Interaction Lab  

at the University of Maryland (UMD) College Park, where he conducts fundamental research in the field of human-computer interaction. He pioneered the highlighted textual link in 1983, and it became part of Hyperties, a precursor to the web. His move into information visualization spawned Spotfire, known for pharmaceutical drug discovery and genomic data analysis. He is also a technical advisor for the treemap visualization producer, The Hive Group. A native New Yorker, Prof. Shneiderman was born in 1947 and attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science in New York City where he excelled in science and mathematics. In 1968, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and Physics from the City College of New York. Shneiderman attended Stony Brook University, receiving a Master of Science degree in Computer Science in 1972 followed by a PhD in 1973 – the first to receive a PhD in computer science from Stony Brook. Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2010, he is recognized nationally and internationally as evidenced by many of the awards that he has received, including the 2013 Distinguished University Professor award from UMD, Graduate Faculty Mentor of the year, the 2012 Visualization Career Award presented by the IEEE Computer Society Visualization & Graphics Technical Committee. He also received Honorary Doctorates from the University of Guelph (Canada) and the University of Castile (Spain). 

Charles B. Wang is co-founder of Computer Associates International (now CA, Inc.), and owner of the New York Islanders ice hockey team. Born in Shanghai, he moved to Queens, New York when he was eight-years-old, and attended Brooklyn Technical High School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Mr. Wang (pronounced “Wong”) founded CA in 1976 with three associates and served as Chairman since the company’s inception. He has since authored two books to help business executives master technology: Techno Vision (1994, McGraw-Hill)  

and Techno Vision II (1997, McGraw-Hill). Mr. Wang‘s impact on Stony Brook University is a true legacy, helping to establish an Asian and Asian-American cultural hub on the 1,000-acre campus – The Charles B. Wang Center – a focal point for many distinguished lectures, art exhibits and special events. Charles Wang retired from Computer Associates in 2002 and continues to make a significant impact on Long Island through his charitable contributions and entrepreneurial ventures. He is one of the principals of the Lighthouse Project, a proposed transformation of the Nassau Coliseum and the surrounding 77 acres to include an updated arena, a minor league baseball stadium, office and retail space and residences. He is Chairman of NeuLion, a leading internet television company providing a comprehensive suite of technology and services to content owners. Mr. Wang created the New York Islanders Children’s Foundation, co-founded and actively supports The Smile Train, and also funds the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Charles B. Wang International Foundation supports education, various social and cultural organizations with an emphasis on the needs of children, including the Plainview Chinese Cultural Center, and various health care organizations including the Charles B. Wang Community Health Center, which provides quality, culturally relevant and affordable health care and education, and advocates on behalf of the health and social needs of underserved Asian-Americans. 


Dorothy Lichtenstein: Doctor of Humane Letters

Honorary Degree Conferred at the Main Commencement Ceremony

Dorothy Lichtenstein is famous for the extraordinary passion, wisdom and generous commitment she brings to the arts. She is president of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, through which she encourages a broad understanding of contemporary art and culture. As a member of the Stony Brook Foundation Board of Trustees since 2008, she has been an important patron of the University’s arts programs on the East End of Long Island, in particular the graduate programs in the arts at Stony Brook Southampton and the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center. Her dedication doesn’t stop there. Lichtenstein’s leadership and generosity extend to the University as a whole — from scholarships to students on campus to research about human evolution at the Turkana Basin Institute in Kenya. An active participant of the contemporary art scene since the early 1960s, Lichtenstein worked at the pioneering Bianchini Art Gallery in New York City after attending Beaver College. The Gallery, which specialized in emerging pop art, made a splash with its 1964 “American Supermarket” exposition, in which works of then little-known young artists — such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist — were offered for sale in bins. The following year, she edited Pop Art One, which documented the early New York Pop Art Movement in an innovative portfolio design. It was through the “American Supermarket” that she met artist Roy Lichtenstein, whom she married in 1968. After Roy’s death in 1997, she established the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, which currently has 5,200 Roy Lichtenstein works in its catalogue. In recognition of her work supporting the arts, Dorothy Lichtenstein was awarded an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in 2001. In addition to her commitment to Stony Brook, she has been a trustee of the Parrish Art Museum since 2000, has served on the Leadership Council of the New York Stem Cell Council Foundation and on the Board of Studio in a School, an organization that provides students with a meaningful visual arts experience through partnerships between artists and educators in New York City Schools. Most recently, she curated the first Roy Lichtenstein retrospective in two decades. Because of her contributions to the arts, her commitment to science and stem cell research, her unwavering support of the Long Island arts community, her careful stewardship of the artistic legacy of her husband, Roy Lichtenstein, and her continuing commitment to Stony Brook University, we are honored to bestow upon Dorothy Lichtenstein the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. 

David Walt: Doctor of Science
Honorary Degree Conferred at the Doctoral Ceremony

David Walt ’79, the Robinson Professor of Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University, has been a leader in the application of micro- and nano-technologies to urgent biological problems. His laboratory at Tufts is world-renowned for its pioneering work in fiber-optic microarray technology, which is used in the detection of infectious diseases, diagnostics for cancer biomarkers and answering fundamental questions on basic biological processes. Walt has received numerous national and international awards and honors for his fundamental and applied work in the field of optical sensors and arrays. Walt’s scientific career began after he graduated from Stony Brook University with his PhD in Chemistry in 1979. After two years as a postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he became an assistant professor at Tufts University in 1981, where he has worked ever since, serving for eight years as chair of the Department of Chemistry. He has published more than 250 scientific articles and holds more than 60 patents. Outside his lab, Walt and his organic chemistry and biochemistry students are devoted to bringing the excitement of science to the public through an active program with local schools in which Tufts students help integrate new science into the K–12 curriculum. In 2012 he received a Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health. This grant will allow Walt to establish a core sequencing facility for educational purposes, create an entry-level, research-based course for high school students, and continue his longtime focus on outreach to local K–12 students and teachers in the area of science education. In addition to his academic accomplishments, Walt is the scientific founder and director of Illumina Inc., a San Diego-based company and leader in genetic analysis, as well as scientific founder and director of Quanterix Corporation, based in Massachusetts, which is developing a next-generation platform for early disease diagnosis, with particular emphasis on early detection of cancers and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Walt’s contributions to the fields of micro- and nano-technology with biological applications have been truly groundbreaking. The companies that he helped found continue to lead in the practical application of scientific ideas to real-world problems. David Walt is among our most distinguished alumni, and the University is proud to grant him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science. 

Terence Netter: Doctor of Fine Arts
Nora D. Vokow: Doctor of Science

Glenn Dubin
Richard J. Gambino
Sister Margaret Ann Landry
James Salter

Henry Laufer
Marsha Laufer
Hyun-Soon Lee
Jane Lubchenco

Gregg Smith
Eugene V. Thaw
Elwyn L. Simons 

Carolyn Porco
Charles Wurster 
Liu Yangdong

Norman F. Ramsey
Marilyn Hawrys Simons
James D. Wolfensohn

Russell Mittermeier-Conservation Biology
Christopher Pendergast-Founder, Ride for Life and Medical Research Campaigner 
W. Burghardt Turber-Civil Rights and Diversity 

Bernard A. Harris, Jr.-Astronaut

Christopher Reeve–Actor and Activist (posthumously)
Charles A. Gargano–Business and Engineering

Richard L. Gelfond–Business
Matthew J. Cody–Philanthropist for Autism and Developmental Disabilities

Robert Shaler–Forensic Biologist 
David E. Acker–Scientist and Inventor
George Booth–Cartoonist
Barry Spencer Coller–Medical Researcher and Inventor

Bruce Stillman—Medical Research and Academics
Loni Ding—Filmmaker and Educator
Robert L. Gallucci—Foreign Service
Meave Leaky—Human Evolution
John H. Marburger—Physics

John Hennessy—Electrical Engineering, Business, and Academics
Susan Solomon—Atmospheric Sciences
Erwin Staller—Philanthropist for the Arts

John Belle—Architect
James A. Hayward—Scientist, Entrepreneur, and Philanthropist
Albert Murray—Author and Cultural Critic
George Williams—Biologist

Bruce Alberts—Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
John H. Coleman—Engineering and Business
Charles Johnson—Author
June E. Osborn—Medicine and Research
Chen Ning Yang—Theoretical Physics

Hayward Cirker—Publishing
E. Virgil Conway—Business and Public Service
Richard E.F. Leakey—Anthropology
T. Alexander Pond—Physics
Chang-Lin Tien—Engineering

Norman Mercer—Artist
Myung Oh—Business
Suzie Orbach—Psychotherapist

Kenneth Chenault—Community Service/Business
Gerald Leeds Community Service
Lilo Leeds—Community Service
Sheldon Weinig—Scientist/Teacher

Robert Blackburn—Artist/Teacher 
Dennis Puleston—Scientist/Teacher Conservationist
Kwon-Ting Li—Physics/Economic Development 
P. Roy Vagelos—Biomedical

Akito Arima—Physics
Joycelyn Elders—Surgeon General
Robert Paxton—Historian

Howard Green—Medicine

Gertrude Elion—Scientist
Nina Totenberg—Broadcaster, National Public Radio
James Simons—Services to Higher Education/Philanthropy

Isabel Allende—Writer
Mathilde Krim—Aids Research/Education

Paul Lauterbur—Chemistry
John Toll—Services to Higher Education
Gary Becker—Economics
Dalai Lama—Services to Humanity and Promotion of World Peace

Joan Wallach Scott—History
Karl Turekian—Geochemistry
Martinus Veltman—Physics 
Sir Run Run Shaw—Philanthropy
Lin Ma—Development of Higher Education in Hong Kong and Education Exchange

Richard Doll—Medicine 
Bernard Greenhouse—Music
Barrett Hazeltine—Engineering
Theodore Lowi—Political Science 
Frederick Morgan—Poet-Editor 
Carl Schorske—History
Robert Weinberg—Medicine

Albert Banduar—Psychology
Wayne Clayson Booth—English
Umberto Eco—Semiotics
Donald Ervin Knuth—Computer Science

Richard Garwin—Physics
Eric Kandel—Neurobiology
William Riker—Political Science

Salo Baron—History of Judaism
Margaret Burbidge—Astrophysics
S.S. Chern—Mathematics
Betty Friedan—Writer-Feminist
Henry Taube—Chemistry

Lipman Bers—Mathematics 
Lee Krasner—Artist
Henri Peyre—French Literature
Sarah Ratner—Biology
Sewall Wright—Biology

Maurice Goldhaber—Physics
Barbara McClintock—Biology
Bayard Rustin—Public Service
Lewis Thomas—Medicine