Stony Brook University released its 40 Under Forty list for 2015 last month, honoring 40 distinguished alumni in a wide range of fields from entrepreneurship, healthcare, and sports to humanitarianism, technology and the arts.
This is the second year for the alumni recognition program, which held an awards event Jan. 26 at the Edison Ballroom in New York City. The program’s website features each of the 40 honorees and details their accomplishments in their careers since graduating from Stony Brook.
“Do you know a bright, innovative, entrepreneurial-spirited young graduate who has used their Stony Brook degree to pursue their passions, to help others, and lead positive change?” is the question asked on the nomination page of the 40 Under Forty website, and the standard to which honorees are held.
This year’s list includes athletes like Tom Koehler, pitcher for the Miami Marlins, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology in 2008, and activists such as Ikal Angelei, founder and director of Friends of Lake Turkana, Kenya, who graduated in 2010 with her master’s degree in public policy.
The youngest honoree on this year’s 40 Under Forty list is 23-year-old Neha Kinariwalla, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 2014 and went on to earn her Master of Philosophy at Cambridge University as a Gates-Cambridge Scholar.
“I conducted research at Oxford University the summer after my sophomore year,” Kinariwalla said in an interview. “It was pertaining to destigmatizing disease but I felt that work was too restricted to the ivory tower, so I started the [Humanology] Project to bridge an academic gap, in a way.”
In the summer between her second and third years at Stony Brook, Kinariwalla founded the Humanology Project, an organization that works to challenge misconceptions regarding mental illness by providing a medium for patients to share their perspectives and form an online community.
Another honoree, Deepti Sharma Kapur, is a second-time recipient of the honor. Kapur earned her bachelor’s degree in business management and political science from SBU in 2008, and she is the CEO and founder of FoodtoEat.com.
Based in New York City, FoodtoEat is an online food ordering and delivery service that works with local food trucks and restaurants to cater to the local population. Kapur also shared in an interview that she enjoys community outreach projects. She has worked with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program for over seven years and cofounded the Mountaintop Program, a mentorship program for New York City high school students.
“I didn’t know that you could be nominated twice, so I was very surprised but also overwhelmed and overjoyed that my school loves me enough to recognize me again,” Kapur said with a laugh. “[40 Under Forty] gives me such a great opportunity to meet the other amazing alumni that are doing really interesting things in their lives, so I’m really looking forward to the event as well!”
Also a two-time honoree, Chris Vaccaro, editor-in-chief of the Topps Company and adjunct journalism professor at Hofstra University, graduated from Stony Brook with his master’s degree in public policy in 2011. He studied part-time at Stony Brook but emphasized that working with professors who were experts in their fields and learning from their experiences contributed to where he is today.
The selection of the 40 Under Forty list is a long process that is a collaborative effort of Alumni Relations, the Alumni Association, Advancement, the Office of the President, and many other departments.
Matthew Colson, executive director of the Office of Alumni Relations at Stony Brook University, explained that his office is primarily responsible for how the program runs, and the office hands coordination of the final event off to the Division of Advancement Events.
For the selection of the 2015 honorees, the call for nominations started at the end of August and remained open through the beginning of October. Over the course of this month, there was an email and social media campaign asking for nominations from faculty, parents and other alumni. There were nearly 700 nominations and endorsements altogether last year, Colson said.
People can nominate an alum by filling out an application explaining why they feel he or she deserves the award, and there is also an endorsement option, so anyone can endorse an alumnus who has already been nominated without filling out another complete application.
After the nomination period ends, the process moves to an external committee, which consists of long-standing faculty, staff and alumni.
“There are many areas and departments involved in the selection committee, as we want to include the different perspectives of what defines an outstanding Stony Book product who is living a life in the spirit of the mission of the university,” Colson explained in an interview. “That’s a big piece of what’s behind the award and selection process.”
Each member of the committee then submits their own top 40 list, and each list is then cross-checked with the others to determine the final 40 Under Forty list, consisting of the most commonly mentioned alumni across all lists.
By the end of November, honorees are informed of their selection and receive personalized ink letters from President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., as well as phone calls from staff inviting them to attend the event and accept their award. Nominees who were not selected also receive complimentary invites to attend.
“For this award, we are looking for our crème de la crème, our shining stars of the alumni,” Colson said. “The alumni base of the age group that we are looking at is well over 20,000, so not to be cliché when we say even to be nominated is an amazing accomplishment in itself, but we really are proud of them making a difference in the world.”
The event is a celebration for all of the nominees and honorees, with live music, a cocktail hour and an award ceremony. The event is open to the general alumni body as well, who comprised about one-third of the attendees last year, Colson said.
Dr. Min Yu, who earned her Ph.D. in genetics from Stony Brook in 2006, is currently an assistant professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine at USC, and said she felt the event gave her an opportunity to connect with other Stony Brook alumni.
“I think it’s really great for Stony Brook to recognize people who have successfully started up in their career after graduation,” Yu said in an interview. “Being in California, I’m still occasionally in touch with peers and colleagues from Stony Brook but I’m looking forward to meeting the other honorees and learning about their achievements.”
Other honorees echo Yu’s sentiments, stating that they’re eagerly anticipating reconnecting with the Stony Brook community.
Brooke Ellison is an assistant professor in the School of Health Technology and Management at Stony Brook and director of education and ethics at the Stony Brook Stem Cell Facility. Ellison, who was the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard, earned her Ph.D. in sociology from Stony Brook in 2012.
“In life we are boxed into a very particular trajectory when there is so much potential and so many opportunities out there,” Ellison said. “At Stony Brook, people are encouraged to take risks and explore new possibilities, something which meant a lot to me when I first came here, and I’m honored that they have chosen me for this award.”
Correction: Jan. 31, 2016
A previous version of this story reported that the Office of Alumni Relations at Stony Brook University coordinates everything for the “40 Under Forty” program leading up to the final celebration event. The story should have specified that the office hands coordination of the final event off to the Division of Advancement Events.