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Francine Berman to Joins UMass Amherst Faculty as Stuart Rice Honorary Chair

AMHERST — Francine Berman, renowned data scientist, researcher, and co-founder of the Research Data Alliance, will join UMass Amherst’s College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) faculty this fall as a research professor and Stuart Rice Honorary Chair. She will work across the UMass campus to build and lead a new initiative in public-interest technology.

A leading researcher in the field of data science, Berman has focused her past work on the societal, ethical, and environmental impacts of information technology. Most recently, she has been working to ensure that the internet of things develops in ways that are beneficial for human society and the ecosystem, topics she explored as a 2019-20 Katherine Hampson Bessell Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She currently serves as the Edward P. Hamilton Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“Most people are part of the internet of things and don’t even realize it,” Berman said. “A Fitbit, a Tesla, your smartphone or pacemaker — all of these are connected, and they’re all gathering and sharing information.”

Most of the time, all that information-sharing makes our lives easier, but sometimes it doesn’t, as when our identities are stolen or when discriminatory pricing is tied to our surfing preferences, she explained. “Technology should be good for us. It should be controlled by us, not the other way around.”

At UMass Amherst, Berman will lead a new initiative focusing on public-interest technology. The initiative will blend teaching and research with hands-on practice and provide students, alumni, and the community with tools to reap the benefits and minimize the risks of the technological world we live in. This initiative will span the university’s Amherst and Mount Ida campuses, leveraging the Newton location for outreach and student experiential learning.

Berman’s academic expertise has translated to an extensive career in public service. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she was appointed to the National Council on the Humanities in 2015. In recognition of her service-focused work, she was selected by the National Academy of Public Administration for inclusion in its 2020 class of Academy Fellows.

In 2012, she co-founded the Research Data Alliance (RDA), a community-driven international organization that builds global infrastructure to enable data sharing and data-driven research. Since its launch in 2012, RDA has attracted nearly 12,000 members from more than 130 countries and has built data infrastructure in use by groups and projects all over the world.

Berman has also served in academic leadership roles, including as vice president for Research at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, director of the San Diego Supercomputer Center, and director of the National Science Foundation’s Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure, a consortium of 41 research groups, institutions, and university partners with the mission of developing national infrastructure to support data-intensive and computationally intensive applications.

Berman is a fellow of the Assoc. of Computing Machinery, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science. Before joining RPI, she taught at Purdue University as an assistant professor and at the University of California San Diego as a professor. She earned her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Washington.

“I love the mission of public universities,” she said. “I’m excited to join the UMass community, where social responsibility is at the forefront of so many people’s work, from students to faculty to leadership. And CICS, with its mission of computing for the common good, will be a wonderful new home.”

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