LIU has some big dreams for little East End campus

LIU undergraduate students pose at the school’s entrance in Riverhead.

Long Island University at Riverhead may be small, and the school may share a campus with a community college, but its operating principle — taken from a 20th century anthropologist named Margaret Mead — is big and bold and inspiring.

Ms. Mead’s words echo the vision of countless others throughout history: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” she said, “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

When LIU’s Riverhead branch opened in 2006, small would have been an understatement. Its first graduating class in 2008, earning master’s degrees and advanced certificates in education and homeland security, totaled a whopping 55 students. Even its 2010 class, which graduated this month, showcased only 75 graduates. But the school, with a total enrollment of 275 for 2010, recently launched an undergraduate program, and school officials see the LIU campus standing at the cusp of a radical shift in the educational prospects for East End students.

The undergraduate program, which just wrapped up its first year with 19 students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in childhood education, will serve to strengthen the university’s growing importance within the educational field, especially in eastern Suffolk County, school officials said. With Stony Brook’s Southampton campus — the only other school offering undergraduate degrees on the East End — paring down its academic programs and suspending on-campus residence, LIU may indeed be filling an educational void in Suffolk County.

“We’re the only private university on the East End,” noted John Brush, the campus’ director of liberal arts education. “Students can now come to Suffolk Community, complete their first two years there, then continue on to complete their bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at LIU, all while staying on the East End — and that’s really something that’s never been done before.”

The school, which resides in Suffolk County Community College’s old Montaukett Building, currently boasts seven classrooms, one computer lab and a library. Although space might be tight, sharing a building with SCCC’s eastern campus makes the transfer from Suffolk to LIU “seamlessly” easy for undergraduate students looking to finish their education, Mr. Brush said.

“So for students who want to stay local and don’t want to commute, it’s the perfect thing for them,” he said.

In addition to the university’s growing undergraduate program, graduate students can earn master’s degrees and advanced certificates in numerous other fields, including homeland security management, an online certificate program whose students include members of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, New York Police Department and nearly a dozen other organizations. Since it’s inception, LIU’s Homeland Security Management Institute has been so successful that Congress designated it a National Transportation Security Center of Excellence in 2007.

Ultimately, the goal is follow in the footsteps of LIU’s three other main campuses located in Brooklyn, Brookville, and Brentwood, building upon the university’s initial success by slowly expanding their masters program’s and offering more undergraduate opportunities, school officials said. However, despite its plans for a steady but slow growth, university members hope it never loses the small community feel that has made the campus so unique.

“They’re all a very close-knit group,” said Andrea Borra, director of admissions at LIU. “We definitely want to grow the program, but right now we take pride in being able to give that one-on-one attention, to have that close-knit community feel. That’s really what we’re working on now — keeping that strong.”

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