Maintaining Momentum at UMass Amherst

There were no real surprises at the elaborate press conference staged last week to introduce Kumble Subbaswamy as the chancellor-elect at UMass Amherst (see story, page 10).
The current provost at the University of Kentucky, due to assume his new post in July, said all the things that one would anticipate him saying — about taking the flagship campus to the proverbial next level, improving town-gown relations, maintaining and possibly expanding the school’s work within Greater Springfield, and striving to improve access to the university. In the course of doing all that, he used the words you would expect him to use: challenge, opportunity, relationships, partnerships, collaboration, communication, and transparency.
But he also used a word that some might not expect to hear — momentum. And he used it early and often, in phrases like ‘maintaining momentum,’ ‘building on the existing momentum,’ and others like it. And he was right to do so.
In the wake of what amounts to the ouster of Chancellor Robert Holub, it would be easy to forget or overlook the existence of a good deal of momentum at the flagship campus of the state university. Subbaswamy was wise to acknowledge it, and, more importantly, he understands that one of his primary goals is to sustain the current momentum, and in the many forms it takes.
In recent years, UMass has made great strides in its efforts to win more federal research dollars, and also in the broad and all-important category of fund-raising. Meanwhile, the many cranes operating on campus are a compelling sign of expansion and modernization.
But perhaps the most impressive gains, we feel, have come in the realm of economic development, or making the Amherst campus much more the ‘economic engine’ that area business and civic leaders have long desired — and expected — it to become.
Indeed, for years the phrase heard in the Greater Springfield area was, ‘why isn’t UMass doing more?’ And you heard it in reference to everything from a physical presence in downtown Springfield to job creation; from putting the vast resources at the Amherst campus to work helping individual businesses and economic sectors grow and thrive, to efforts to enable more area residents to attain four-year degrees. Even the football team’s ascension to the bowl subdivision connotes upward movement.
The fact that you don’t hear that phrase nearly as often indicates that the school has become far more involved in those initiatives and has created a good deal of that aforementioned momentum.
Examples abound, and include:
• Expansion efforts at the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, a collaborative effort with Baystate Health;
• The university’s lead role in making the Green High Performance Computing Center a reality in downtown Holyoke, where it is generating enthusiasm about bringing related businesses to that city;
• A project to move the university’s Design Center into one of the buildings in Springfield’s Court Square;
• The Precision Manufacturing Regional Alliance Project, or PMRAP, as it’s known, a project being undertaken with the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County and the National Tooling & Machining Assoc. to transfer technology from two departments at the university (Polymer Science and Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) to area precision manufacturers; and
• An ongoing partnership with Springfield Technical Community College to reinvigorate the Scibelli Enterprise Center on the STCC campus and, in so doing, help more fledging business ventures get off the ground or to that next level.
Together, these initiatives and many others add up to progress and (here’s that word again) momentum, not only for the university, but for the region and especially its largest city.
Subbaswamy told the press that there are many aspects to his job description as chancellor — everything from promoting the university and strengthening its brand to making sure a host of constituencies, from lawmakers to alumni, understand its true value to the Commonwealth.
But he can put ‘maintaining momentum’ at the very top of his list, and, judging from his comments, he already has.

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