From walking across the campus of then Long Island University’s Southampton College to classes and labs as an undergraduate in the late 1990s, to overseeing the operations of a new 15,000-square-foot marine sciences center on the same campus today, now Stony Brook Southampton, Christopher Paparo feels his life has come full circle.
On July 1, Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences hired Mr. Paparo as the director of its new Marine Sciences Center at the Shinnecock Hills campus.
“I was looking for something new, for a challenge and when I heard about the construction of the new center on campus I felt like that was just what I was looking for,” he said. “Plus, I have so many great memories of going to labs and class, going out into the bay on boats to do research, and I can’t wait to share that with future students.”
The new center, which is being built south of the main campus and replacing three buildings on Little Neck Road, comes with a price tag of $8.5 million─$6.9 million of which is being funded by the state.
Mr. Paparo graduated from Long Island University with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology in 1999 and has spent the bulk of his career working with the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center in Riverhead, as he watched its construction from the ground up. By the end of his tenure, Mr. Paparo rose to the position of senior aquarist.
Dr. Christopher Gobler, director of academic programs at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said Mr. Paparo’s experience at the aquarium is what made him stand out in a pool of applicants from across the country.
“He was there through all aspects from the construction and on,” Dr. Gobler said of Mr. Paparo’s time spent in Riverhead. “He really did it all and that’s what we’re going to need. That position managing the new lab is not just going to include interacting with scientists and researchers, but interacting with students and interacting with the public as well.
“In all those respects,” he continued, “he was the ideal candidate.”
Mr. Paparo, who will turn 37 in September, is a native of Holbrook and now lives in Calverton with his wife, Candy, who is the assistant director of training at the Riverhead aquarium. Dr. Gobler said it was Mr. Paparo’s community ties, namely his time spent in Southampton during his college days, that helped him stand out from other applicants.
Mr. Paparo said he plans on using his familiarity with the area to build programs that showcase the bays and marine life within them. He also hopes to build up the campus’s “Semester by the Sea” program, which will allow Stony Brook students to spend an entire fall semester on the Southampton campus, making use of the new center as well as its research vessels and its marine lab facilities.
“They’re learning firsthand what the bays are about being on them,” Mr. Paparo said.
He added that the program builds upon two of his main goals as director: attracting a larger undergraduate student body and showcasing Long Island.
Along with work at the aquarium and the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, Mr. Paparo also is a nature photographer and writer, contributing to several publications, with much of his work capturing wildlife on the island.
“I enjoy bringing awareness to the natural world, especially Long Island,” he said. “People don’t know how much there is to see that you can access without having to go to some faraway place. The more they know the more they’re going to appreciate it.”