TIER Talks highlights Binghamton’s global reach

By Steve Seepersaud

An internship at the University’s Institute for Child Development was the defining Binghamton experience for Svetlana Iyer ’01, MS ’03. It inspired her to pursue a graduate degree in education and laid the foundation for her eventual career as a behavioral analyst, which enables her to change lives across the world. 

Iyer, co-founder of Iyer Educational Institutions, discussed her work with alumni and friends Sept. 21, at the Homecoming TIER Talks® event. “Mission Possible: Alumni Changing the World” showcased the accomplishments of three alumni solving societal problems that, if left unchecked, have the potential for micro- and macro-level devastation. The speakers have dedicated their lives to endeavors such as increasing access to healthcare, improving educational outcomes for children with autism and trying to prevent genocide.

With her husband Balakrishnan Iyer, MS '00, LHD ’19, Iyer launched Stepping Stones Center in Bangalore, India, to provide assessment and interventions for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. She said they didn’t see the work as purely humanitarian. By helping disabled people, they were also helping India’s economic growth.

Iyer told a story about Yogi, her first student with autism in India. The 5-year-old didn’t speak or attend school, and had a habit of coloring all over the walls. She helped Yogi associate words with objects and people, teaching him to ask for what he wanted and to correctly identify family members.

“The day Yogi answered correctly when he was asked, 'Who is this?' as I was pointing to his mother, his mom and I broke into tears and we cheered,” Iyer said. “That was a breakthrough moment for me. There are dozens of kids like this in Stepping Stones Center who started as completely dependent and nonverbal, unaware of anything around them, now singing at events, having their own exhibits of art they made or simply going to school with real friends.”

William Schecter ’68, professor emeritus of clinical surgery at the University of California San Francisco, is co-founder and president of the Alliance for Global Clinical Training that provides assistance in surgical education in Tanzania. Schecter showed the audience graphic photos of Tanzanian patients with major swelling from thyroid cancer — a treatable condition. Schecter’s team has made it possible for these patients to receive the care they need. 

He said his work in Africa is inspired by the four tenets of medical practice — act in the best interest of the patient, do no harm, respect the patient’s wishes and treat everyone equally — as well as the Biblical command to love your neighbor.

“Are we improving outcomes? This question is [hard] to answer,” Schecter said. “Subjectively, the quality of rounds in the [intensive care units] has improved dramatically, and the Tanzanian surgeons are doing procedures unavailable to them prior to our arrival. But objective assessment of outcomes is impossible. We’d like to think the morbidity and mortality rates have improved, but there is no viable information system in the hospital.”

Nadia Rubaii ’85, MA ’87, PhD ’91, professor of public administration at Binghamton University, is co-director of the Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, which formed at Binghamton in 2016, thanks in large part to anonymous donor support. 

The Institute fills a void in higher education because it offers academic coursework and supports research in preventing mass atrocities. The “never again” promise the global community made but didn’t fulfill following the Holocaust is still within reach, but will take the work of many individuals, she said.

“In your professional life, atrocity prevention might take the form of considering the implications of decisions that you make about what companies or countries you do business with, what messages you will allow to be forwarded on your communications platforms, what trends you will take notice of and act on, and how you will test and market new products and technology,” Rubaii said. 

“And we can be prevention actors in our own lives. We contribute to atrocity prevention when we teach our children to resolve conflict without resorting to violence, and when we consider in our decisions — about what to buy, where to travel, for whom to vote or what we post on social media — the implications for atrocity prevention or risk.”

The acronym TIER in the speaker series title stands for Talks that Inspire, Educate and Resonate. The Alumni Association launched TIER Talks® in 2014 to engage alumni and faculty thought leaders in the creation of rich intellectual content on current and relevant topics.