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Stony Brook PowerPlayer: Dr. Yacov Shamash

Dressed in a business suit, Yacov Shamash, Ph.D. sits settled in an armchair, with a towering bookcase filled with teaching and research books behind him.

Stony Brook residents might need to drop by his office in the engineering building to catch a glimpse of Shamash, the dean of Engineering and Applied Sciences, whereas others can access him through forbes.com.

This year was a year of plenty for Shamash.  In the spring, Stony Brook University won $1.5 million for a clean energy incubator program, and Shamash, also the vice president for economic development, is the visionary in executing this plan to create jobs and advocate green technology companies.

Since the House of Representatives passed the climate control bill and the 2009 economic stimulus law, studies from The Center for American Progress and the University of Massachusetts economic department predict that 2.5 million jobs would be created but approximately 800,000 job losses.

Shamash has established Stony Brook as a leading technology prowess by supervising the university’s three incubators, which are programs designed to start-up businesses as well as workforce development programs.  Among them is the Center for Emerging Technology’s Long Island High Technology Incubator, or LIHTI, which has already created jobs for over 500 employees and contributed over $2.5 billion to the national economy.

Shamash’s work is part of an effort to generate economic growth through helping green technology companies, starting with the incubator program at the LIHTI.

After winning the program proposal, Shamash was initially concerned about unforeseen circumstances when uniting people of different areas of the economy.

“When you establish things like the [Advanced] Energy Center you seek grants competitively,” Shamash said.  “So everyone one of these is an opportunity to develop partnerships and new partnerships between the universities, industries and government.”
But this month, the Advanced Energy Center, also known as the Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, or AERTC, hosted the fourth annual Advanced Energy Conference in Manhattan, where approximately 1,400 people from 40 different states and countries attended. Represented were business leaders, energy experts and government officials.  The conference opened doors for many businesses to create partnerships and venture into new projects.

The sound of laughter filled the ballroom during the early hours of the conference’s second day as Shamash opened the keynotes with a wireless joke, familiar to nearly all the tech-savvy attendees in the audience.  Afterward, he shook hands and greeted people as he stepped off stage to the tables below.

He’s generous with his advice,” said Howard Schneider, dean of journalism at Stony Brook University.  “He helped me make the transition working in a company and working in a university.”

For Shamash, the responsibilities he has encountered also required changes.  He has taught from Tel Aviv University in Israel to Washington State University.

“Every new job brings its own challenges: new fields, new work challenges,” Shamash said.

“You have to understand the culture of the place.”

Shamash was born in 1950 in Basra, Iraq to Jewish parents.

“It was a little hard, and I left Iraq and went to England where I was living in a bed and breakfast and it taught me to be independent at an early age and to essentially to appreciatethe time that you get when you do have a family,” he said. “Last time I saw my mom was when I was 13 years old, it obviously had an impact on me over the years and so I feel very strongly about family.”

His older brother studied electrical engineering, so he took an interest.  Coming to London from Iraq to study was a turning point.  It was in London where he received his undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering from Imperial College of Science and Technology before coming to the United States.

Even as the dean and a visionary in job development, Shamash considered he was most successful when he got married, and his most memorable moment was when his daughter got married this past May.

“No matter what, family comes first,” said Peter Goldsmith, head of Long Island Software and Technology Network, Shamash’s business associate and friend of 15 years.  “He has a daughter and son; they adore him.  He has very close ties with his brothers and sisters.  Incredible closeness.”

Fu-pen Chiang, Ph.D., chairman of mechanical engineering, identifies Shamash as “the best thing by far” of the college of engineering.

“Before he came here, it was not highly regarded as whole,” Chiang said. “And now it is because of his leadership.”

Shamash initiated the development of AERTC in 2007 to produce energy research, education and technology, and to support prolonged economic development without damaging the environment.  Now, the building is finished after 15 months of construction.  Equipment is being moved in, and it’s the beginning of new projects.

As the dean, Shamash is concerned about the quality of the programs and the 1,800 to 1,900 students he manages.  He’s working with the department to build up research in the engineering school and develop strategic plans for the college for economic development.
Shamash’s vision is to have Stony Brook’s College of Engineering recognized as far as the incubator conducts business and research—at a national and international level.

“Research is not limited by geography.” Shamash said. “It’s open.”

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