Debrief: One year in, NYIT Prez Foley sees LI’s promise

Reaching out: Approaching his first anniversary in office, NYIT President Hank Foley sees a bright future for his school's Old Westbury campus.

Decades of high-level experience in university-based research and strategic planning, including 10 months at the helm of the New York Institute of Technology, infuse everything Hank Foley says about higher education and its role in the larger socioeconomic scheme. Foley, who succeeded former provost and interim NYIT President Rahmat Shoureshi in June 2017 and was “officially installed” last month, came to New York from the University of Missouri system, where the longtime executive VP (and interim chancellor) executed a multifaceted strategy to commercialize technology emerging from state universities. That’s music to the ears of the Long Island innovation economy – and improving NYIT-Old Westbury’s connectivity with other regional innovators is a top priority for this doctor of physical and inorganic chemistry and nanotech specialist, who’s written a textbook (“Introduction to Chemical Engineering Analysis Using Mathematica”) and collected 16 U.S. patents, among other exceptional professional exploits. Foley’s forecast for LI and beyond:

He literally wrote the book: It was one of the most pleasurable experiences I’ve had. I was fortunate enough to be appointed a fellow of Wolfram Technologies, and Stephen Wolfram, who’s a brilliant guy, seemed to like my project, so they granted me money and rented me a little dinky apartment … and I spent the summer writing the book. It was fantastic.

On points: As the executive vice president for the University of Missouri system, I had a five-point plan to really generate new business based on technology coming out of the [university] system – being sensible about IP, not demanding to own everything all the time, empowering faculty that wanted to be entrepreneurs, developing our own entrepreneurial class from the ground up, putting together the kinds of deals needed to take technology into the marketplace. That was really exciting.

Plant-ing seeds: We even started our own venture fund with money from our IP proceeds, and we had a huge incubator that was partially funded by (St. Louis-based agricultural innovator) Monsanto. We were really pushing the whole area of plant-based science, because St. Louis was becoming this hub of plant science.

Healthy cut: Plant science was the clear-cut direction in Missouri. So, what are we going to be the best at along this technology corridor that goes from Brooklyn to Brookhaven? It seems to me, with [Catholic Health Services of Long Island] and Northwell Health and Stony Brook University and Cold Spring Harbor (Laboratory) and Brookhaven (National Laboratory) and the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we ought to be able to find a common theme – and along that corridor, I’d say it’s biological and life sciences. We ought to be able to push it really hard.

Mission specialist: I really love [NYIT’s] mission, which is all about producing a high-value professional- and career-oriented education at a very reasonable price. What we want to add to our mission is giving those students more experiential learning – I want to do more with internships and co-ops than we ever have before. And I want to make sure our students get a shot at doing real research in engineering and science and medicine.

Anchor aweigh: One of the things I’ve learned is how good the [NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine] is and how it can be an anchor for the future development of our research enterprises at NYIT.

They’re managing: I would have to say the financial management (at NYIT) was a very pleasant surprise. When I came here and saw how the financial management was done, how reporting was done, how planning was done around budgets, I was truly impressed. And our internal data warehouse is probably the best I’ve seen. It’s a tough time for schools, I won’t kid you – but I think we’ve been well-managed. We don’t have any fat or a lot of excess.

Growth plan: What we want to do is improve everything we do while staying true to our mission – adding research, developing new programs in computer sciences and the like, helping more students get outstanding jobs and further the healthcare professions. We want to increase the number of students coming to the school and cut our expenses a bit, so we have better margins, money we can put back into our students, our faculty, our infrastructure, our endowment.

Longer Long Island reach: We are very well engaged in Manhattan. I’m particularly proud of the engagement we have with the [Lincoln Square Business Improvement District] and engagements we have to the north in Harlem. But I’d like to see more engagement with our communities on Long Island. I would love to have more lecture series that would be of interest to the general public. I’d like to see us more engaged with the high schools – I know many of our young faculty are really keen on getting involved in judging science fairs and events like that, and I think that’s fantastic.

Alcance comunitario: We’ve also joined the Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and we’re excited about that, and about working more closely with that organization to reach out to the community and make sure young people who are interested in careers in science and medicine consider NYIT.

Eye-opener: Suffolk County Community College President Shaun McKay and I had a wonderful conversation where he educated me about the lifeline along Route 25A, the hundreds if not thousands of businesses that depend on us – his school, my school, Nassau Community College and others – to provide them with the clinical workforce they need: chemists, technologists and the like. That was my first step in understanding how much small business there is here and how important it is.

The force is with them: I think it’s crucial for us to remember we’re at the midpoint between Brooklyn and Brookhaven. Eighty percent of our students stay in the area (after graduating), which is terrific. We’re a major benefit to workforce development in both Nassau and Suffolk and into Queens. I want that to continue to grow. I want to see more students from New York and Long Island choose NYIT.

Inventing something: I would also like to see our faculty become more involved in innovation. As we hire new faculty over the next five or 10 years, we’re going to be hiring with an eye on that. I believe strongly in people who create businesses that give other people jobs – I think that’s just a really noble thing to do.

Interview by Gregory Zeller

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