When Dr. Robert Frey graduated from Stony Brook in 1980, he never imagined having a building named in his honor–just being a student at the university was a challenge in itself.
Dr. Frey was recognized in August when the newly renovated Old Chemistry building was named after him and his family foundation in recognition of the gifts they have donated to the university over the past 20 years. Frey Hall is a high-tech learning center that features three large lecture halls and just over two dozen classrooms. It is hosting close to 240 courses this semester.
As a child Dr. Frey grew up in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn in a lower-class family. Along with his brothers and sisters he was part of the first generation in his family to pursue a higher education. When he moved out to Long Island–already with a family–he knew he didn’t have many options, but he said that he was lucky there was a great place to go.
“I didn’t have the money to go as a resident student, I could barely afford to go as a commuter,” Dr. Frey said, “I was fortunate there was a great research institution in the neighborhood, so when I looked at Stony Brook it was the clear choice where I wanted to go.”
Dr. Frey attended Stony Brook part-time while he worked full-time. He spent over a dozen years at the university while he obtained a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics.
During his studies he held full-time jobs at the IRS where he worked as a management analyst and also held positions at Doubleday Book Co., European American Bank and Morgan Stanley. After he graduated with his Ph.D., he embarked on a long career at Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund management company.
It was during his time at Renaissance that he worked with James Simons, a fellow Stony Brook philanthropist, and found success. By 2004 he was 50 years old and decided to retire so he could pursue academia and philanthropic efforts.
“I wanted to go out and do something on my own,” Frey said. “I came here as a professor and at the same time we opened up the family foundation so I could get involved in more charitable activities.”
Dr. Frey said that it felt right to come back to Stony Brook because he felt like he could make a contribution to the place that had given him such a huge start.
One of his more notable contributions was helping with the construction of the Hilton Garden Inn which opened on campus this past May.
Having been a member of the Stony Brook Foundation for many years, he was aware that the university had been contemplating building a hotel on campus for quite some time. He says that he recognized this wish and was willing to take the risk to help build the hotel because it was at Stony Brook.
“If it were just a deal somewhere else I probably wouldn’t have done it, it was a tough uphill battle to get it done but I was willing to wait out any delays and stay in it for the long haul,” Dr. Frey said.
Contributions like the hotel, starting a professorship in the Department of Applied Mathematics and establishing a scholarship are what prompted the administration to name Frey Hall after him to commemorate all he has done for the university.
“I was a little bit nervous at first,” Dr. Frey said. “It was definitely a surprise, my initial reaction was to tell them to name after someone else. But I really do appreciate it.”
University President Samuel L. Stanley said in a statement following the unveiling of the new building that “Robert’s connection to and investment in Stony Brook runs deep and personal.”
He added that Dr. Frey has taken on many roles with the university including teaching and philanthropy and that his contributions to the campus have been significant.
Overall, Frey says that he owes much of his personal and professional development to the university.
“In terms of who I am and what I was able to achieve it wouldn’t be possible without Stony Brook,” Dr. Frey said, “I’ve been glad I’ve been able to give back because Stony Brook has been a key part of my life for over 30 years.”