Actor, author and activist Alan Alda, left, attends the Campaign...

Actor, author and activist Alan Alda, left, attends the Campaign for Stony Brook kickoff event at Stony Brook University on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley says the $426 million raised so far in an ambitious capital campaign sends a resounding message that the school is "worth investing in."

Stanley and some of the university's biggest supporters gathered on the campus Saturday night to launch the public phase of a seven-year, $600 million campaign. They brimmed with optimism that the school will raise the remaining funds by July 2018.

"Having raised $426 million of that so far, I think really sends a message to everyone that Stony Brook is worth investing in, that there is something very special about this institution," Stanley said. "And at this moment in time, we're really poised to do great things."

More than 30,000 people have already contributed to The Campaign for Stony Brook, which is led by the university's foundation.

Officials called it the largest capital fundraising effort in the history of the State University of New York. The money will fund capital projects, boost financial aid for students, create 100 endowed faculty positions and bolster research.

Donors also can shape their gifts into what they envision is important to the 25,000-student university, in keeping with the school's mission.

Dexter A. Bailey, senior vice president for university advancement, said the success of the fund drive is reflected in Stony Brook's rise in national academic rankings, top students and energized alumni base.

Among the alumni boosters Saturday was IMAX Corp. CEO and foundation chairman Richard L. Gelfond. The Plainview native, born to a homemaker mother and furrier father, was the first in his family to go to college.

"This place provided opportunities for me and access to a different world than the one I grew up in," said Gelfond, a 1976 graduate.

Reaching the $600 million mark, he said, means having the financial resources to "help bring us to the next level."

"I love this university," said acclaimed actor and science enthusiast Alan Alda, 79, who also attended. "And I hope it gets support from all the people here tonight."

Alda, who lives on Long Island and in Manhattan, said the university "helped make my dream come true" of teaching scientists to communicate better. In 2013, Stony Brook named the Center for Communicating Science after Alda, who helped raise money for it.

In 2011, James Simons, the billionaire who founded East Setauket-based Renaissance Technologies, his wife, Marilyn, and the Simons Foundation kick-started the campaign with a $150 million gift to fund medical research, endow professors and recruit top students -- the largest single donation to a SUNY campus.

Bailey, the foundation's executive director, said the gift was transformational because "it really added a lot of credibility to the university."

Simons and his wife are among the campaign's co-chairs. Simons was chairman of Stony Brook's math department from 1968 to 1976; his wife graduated from Stony Brook, earning a doctorate in economics.

"It's a great public university, and it deserves everybody's support," James Simons said Saturday.

Forty-six other individuals have each donated at least $1 million since the Simonses' largesse four years ago, officials said.

Stanley said the $600 million goal is a challenge, but "anytime you set a campaign like this, there is something important about completing it."

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