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Daily News

AMHERST — A team of engineers at UMass Amherst recently showed that nearly any material can be turned into a device that continuously harvests electricity from humidity in the air. The secret lies in being able to pepper the material with nanopores less than 100 nanometers in diameter. The research appeared in the journal Advanced Materials.

“This is very exciting,” said Xiaomeng Liu, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering in UMass Amherst’s College of Engineering and the paper’s lead author. “We are opening up a wide door for harvesting clean electricity from thin air.”

“The air contains an enormous amount of electricity,” added Jun Yao, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering at UMass Amherst and the paper’s senior author. “Think of a cloud, which is nothing more than a mass of water droplets. Each of those droplets contains a charge, and when conditions are right, the cloud can produce a lightning bolt — but we don’t know how to reliably capture electricity from lightning. What we’ve done is to create a human-built, small-scale cloud that produces electricity for us predictably and continuously so that we can harvest it.”

The heart of the man-made cloud depends on what Yao and his colleagues call the ‘generic Air-gen effect,’ and it builds on work that Yao and co-author Derek Lovley, distinguished professor of Microbiology at UMass Amherst, had previously completed in 2020, showing that electricity could be continuously harvested from the air using a specialized material made of protein nanowires grown from the bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens.

“What we realized after making the Geobacter discovery is that the ability to generate electricity from the air — what we then called the ‘Air-gen effect’ — turns out to be generic: literally any kind of material can harvest electricity from air, as long as it has a certain property,” Yao said.

That property? “It needs to have holes smaller than 100 nanometers (nm), or less than a thousandth of the width of a human hair.”

This is because of a parameter known as the ‘mean free path,’ the distance a single molecule of a substance, in this case water in the air, travels before it bumps into another single molecule of the same substance. When water molecules are suspended in the air, their mean free path is about 100 nm.

Yao and his colleagues realized they could design an electricity harvester based around this number. This harvester would be made from a thin layer of material filled with nanopores smaller than 100 nm that would let water molecules pass from the upper to the lower part of the material. But because each pore is so small, the water molecules would easily bump into the pore’s edge as they pass through the thin layer. This means that the upper part of the layer would be bombarded with many more charge-carrying water molecules than the lower part, creating a charge imbalance, like that in a cloud, as the upper part increased its charge relative to the lower part. This would effectually create a battery — one that runs as long as there is any humidity in the air.

“The idea is simple, but it’s never been discovered before, and it opens all kinds of possibilities,” Yao said, adding that the harvester could be designed from literally all kinds of material, offering broad choices for cost-effective and environment-adaptable fabrications. “You could image harvesters made of one kind of material for rainforest environments, and another for more arid regions.”

And since humidity is ever-present, the harvester would run 24/7, rain or shine, at night and whether or not the wind blows, which solves one of the major problems of technologies like wind or solar, which only work under certain conditions.

Finally, because air humidity diffuses in three-dimensional space and the thickness of the Air-gen device is only a fraction of the width of a human hair, many thousands of them can be stacked on top of each other, efficiently scaling up the amount of energy without increasing the footprint of the device. Such an Air-gen device would be capable of delivering kilowatt-level power for general electrical utility usage.

“Imagine a future world in which clean electricity is available anywhere you go,” Yao said. “The generic Air-gen effect means that this future world can become a reality.”

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, Sony Group, Link Foundation, and the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst, which combines deep and interdisciplinary expertise from 29 departments on the UMass Amherst campus to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit human health and well-being.

Daily News

AMHERST — Ten UMass Amherst students and recent graduates will share $65,000 in equity-free funding to pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors, thanks to the 2023 Innovation Challenge hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship in the Isenberg School of Management. The center’s premiere pitch event aims to launch novel ideas into scalable, impactful ventures.

The students and Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) represented five teams in the finals of the two-part competition, held in Old Chapel and remotely via livestream from the Mount Ida campus in Newton on May 3. Friends and alumni cheered on the teams in the competition hosted by Gregory Thomas, the Berthiaume Center’s executive director and a lecturer at the Isenberg School of Management.

Computer science and marketing dual major Juliano Wahab ’23 and computer science major Alex Rohrberg ’23 earned $41,000 in equity-free funding for developing Monet. The online platform, which connects artists with art lovers worldwide, was inspired by the mission to support artists by providing a platform to collaborate and connect with potential buyers and monetize their art.

IRON garnered $21,000 in equity-free funding. The brainchild of marketing majors Elijah Mishkind ’21 and Kyle Collins ’19, IRON is an app for the gym, empowering users with frictionless workout tracking and discovery though an addictive user interface.

Noah Martinez ’23 and Aaron Xu ’23, who will be graduating this month with degrees in sport management and computer science, respectively, devised the venture that earned the People’s Choice Award by the viewing party at the Mount Ida campus and $1,000 in equity-free funding. Drafted is an all-inclusive app that aims to streamline the athlete-recruiting process by creating a more casual and social experience intended to boost athlete exposure.

The two remaining teams also earned $1,000 in equity-free funding for their entrepreneurial creations. Finance major Emily Shal ’23 developed Food Near Me, a mobile app designed to simplify the restaurant search process for food lovers, allowing users to filter search results based on distance, food type, and price range. CardVerse, from computer engineering majors Ritik Shah ’23, Jatan Pandya ’23 and Shubham Shah ’23, seeks to revolutionize the multi-billion-dollar collectible-card authentication industry by introducing an automated solution.

“My favorite part of the event was to see the emphasis on the Berthiaume ecosystem,” Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement Michael Malone said. “The Innovation Challenge has been going for 18 years strong, and it’s been a pleasure to watch it grow to include participants and spectators from all over the UMass community.”

The Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship is central in promoting entrepreneurship and innovation across the UMass Amherst campus, region, and state. Headquartered in the Isenberg School of Management, the center has become the central hub of a cross-campus network of scholars, innovators, and entrepreneurs, with a three-fold mission of supporting research, education, and practice, all targeted at facilitating the transformation of ideas into business realities.

The judging panel for the Innovation Challenge included Tara Brewster, director of Philanthropy and vice president of Business Development at Greenfield Savings Bank; Hisao Kushi, co-founder and chief legal officer of Ernesta Home Inc. and co-founder and past chief legal officer of Peloton Interactive Inc.; Bud Robertson, former chief financial officer of Progress Software Corp., member of Launchpad Venture Group, and board member at OpenExchange Inc.; and Erica Swallow, co-founder, co-lead, and Realtor at the Turnberg & Swallow Team of Coldwell Banker.

Features Special Coverage

Moving Beyond a ‘Safety School’

chancellor in recent history at UMass Amherst

As the longest-serving chancellor in recent history at UMass Amherst, Kumble Subbaswamy has posed for more than a few photos during his tenure.

Kumble Subbaswamy recalls that, when he arrived at the UMass Amherst campus a dozen years ago, his first priority was to bring some needed stability to a school that had seen a number of leadership changes over the previous decade.

After that, he said, his main goals were to bring the school to a higher level in terms of national rankings, prestige, and reputation — locally, nationally, and internationally.

As he prepares to step aside in a few months and move on to next challenges and opportunities in his career, Subbaswamy, the longest-serving chancellor in the modern era at the school, talked with BusinessWest about how he believes those broad goals have been accomplished — and the manner in which they’ve been accomplished.

In a wide-ranging interview, he talked about everything from the school’s climb in the rankings, and what it means, to the challenges facing UMass and all colleges and universities today and tomorrow, to the pandemic — what it was like to lead the school through that tumultuous time, and how that period changed higher education.

He said he has a rather unique way of measuring how he fared with all that and his legacy, if you will, on the campus — the number of students, and others, who want to stop and take a selfie with him.

It’s an official measuring stick, to be sure, but one that indicates just how far this campus has come during his tenure, and how his leadership helped generate and sustain the very palpable sense of momentum at the school.


BusinessWest: Turn the clock back 12 years, if you will, and talk about the goals you set and how you fared with achieving those goals.

Subbaswamy: “One of the first goals was simply to create some stability. There had been a lot of turnover in a short period of time; there was instability, insecurity, and a lot of drama coming out of Whitmore [the school’s administration building]. So there was a strong desire to stabilize that situation so the campus could then go about its business of achieving its mission of teaching, research, and outreach. And there was no guarantee this would happen — it’s a complex job where you have multiple audiences. You have the system office; you have to keep them happy. You have to keep the campus happy, you have to keep the unions happy, you have to keep the local legislative group happy, and so on. So none of that was a given.

“But when we were able to focus on improving the campus … one important focus that became self-evident as I was looking at the data was that, while we claimed to be the best public university in New England, the data didn’t really show that, especially student-success data. We were much further behind UConn, for example.

“That was the beginning of what I’ll call installing a planning culture — always being data-driven and doing plan assessment and improvement on a continuous basis. That was not necessarily the culture on the campus, at least not in a systematic way. So when I look back and identify one important thing that helped turn the campus around, I would say it was creating a culture of strategic planning, being data-driven, and always thinking about improving those aspects in which we could be doing better or where we’re not doing as well as our competition.”

UMass Amherst

During Kumble Subbaswamy’s tenure, the UMass Amherst campus became much more of a destination for top students.

BusinessWest: What was the biggest step forward taken by the university during your tenure?

Subbaswamy: “Improvement in graduation rates would be one example, but there are other measures, such as people doing internships, job placement, and more, and all this showed up in U.S. News & World Report rankings, because there is strong weight given to graduation rates, and without being overly selective, when you achieve high graduation rates, you get lots of points.

“It’s not that we’re pursuing rankings, but those metrics that we care about, and achieving progress with them, really does help. And when we went from number 52 in national public university rankings to number 26 — we’re hovering right around 25 or 26 — that made people take notice of Massachusetts.

“That rise in the rankings gave everyone associated with the university a point of pride; alumni started taking notice, parents and prospective students started taking notice, guidance counselors started taking notice. It started a positive cycle where more and more highly qualified students started applying, our classes got better, and our results got even better.”


BusinessWest: Talk more about how that rise in the rankings was achieved.

Subbaswamy: “Back in 2013, based on what was going on, as well as part of our requirement for re-accreditation, we developed a strategic plan; we declared that our goal was to make UMass Amherst a destination of choice. We had been thought of as a safety school in previous decades, and we were essentially saying, ‘no, that’s not who we are — we’re the flagship of the Massachusetts system, we’re the flagship of the Commonwealth.’ In fact, that became our tagline.

“This was a strategic plan that sought ways to make improvements across the board, with a particular emphasis on undergraduate education, where we really did need to catch up with some of the neighboring states. It then became a rallying cry for the entire campus; every department, every college focused on what they needed to be doing better in order to retain our students, make sure they graduate on time, placement, bringing in more internships and other experiences that help students get jobs, improving student experiences, and improving student outcomes. And that culture is now part and parcel to who we are at UMass.”

Seen here with former Gov. Charlie Baker, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy says managing the school through COVID was an intense challenge marked by decisions involving “life and death.”

BusinessWest: What has this experience of leading UMass at this critical time in its history been like for you, personally and professionally?

Subbaswamy: “It’s been exhilarating. It’s been the pinnacle of my career in terms of the personal satisfaction I’ve had in being able to rally the campus — all sectors of the campus — to a single goal of being better, serving our students better, serving the Commonwealth better.

“We’re trying to make people feel like they belong. In fact, belonging is a major theme in our equity and diversity efforts — we want people to feel that they belong here, and if they don’t, then we want to know why and see how we can improve that. It’s been very rewarding to see the campus feel like an entity with a purpose and with a vision.”

“That rise in the rankings gave everyone associated with the university a point of pride; alumni started taking notice, parents and prospective students started taking notice, guidance counselors started taking notice.”

BusinessWest: Is there an area where there is some significant work still to do on the Amherst campus?

Subbaswamy: “One issue that has come up recently, and one that has been partly exacerbated by the pandemic as well, has been housing in general. Housing, in Amherst and the surrounding communities where our students, faculty, and staff live, is becoming considerably more expensive and harder to find, especially in the past few years. We’re faced with not just a shortage of housing, but a shortage of affordable housing, because that’s a significant component of the cost of education for anyone who comes to Amherst.

“Some serious joint planning with the surrounding communities is needed to try to address the need for more affordable housing so that this university doesn’t become a university that can only serve the affluent.”


BusinessWest: We’re seeing some demographic shifts, especially with regard to the numbers of high-school graduates, as well as other trends involving enrollment. What do these mean for the university, and higher education in general?

Subbaswamy: “There has been a lot written about the fact that the number of 18-year-olds, across the country, but in the New England area especially, will drop significantly starting in 2025 for 10 years. But we’re already seeing a lot of changes taking place here. There are some smaller colleges that are really financially stressed, to the point where they may close or merge — we’ve seen both closures and mergers recently. We’ve also seen regional universities, and some of the state colleges, see some decline in enrollment, and we’ve seen community colleges see a similar decline in enrollment.

“What we’ve seen is that more and more students are beginning to apply to the large flagships, and so, nationwide, schools like UMass and others in our class have seen higher numbers of applications, and so we haven’t seen that pinch of demographic decline. I think that’s because of that shift in thinking; some people who used to apply to small colleges are now asking, ‘will that school be there in four years?’ and thinking they’re better off applying to the state university, especially one that’s robust in terms of enrollment and support from the state. There’s definitely some of that going on.

“Also, there was a time when state boundaries mattered, but now they don’t for education. The University of Pittsburgh and the University of Alabama actively recruit in Massachusetts, and we actively recruit in Texas and places like that. It’s a national — in fact, international — marketplace, so quality matters; education matters. So to keep focusing on those things is very important.”


BusinessWest: Beyond these demographic changes, what are the other significant challenges facing higher education today?

Subbaswamy: “Affordability is certainly a challenge … even when it comes to public options. For in-state residents, we’re now $31,000 to $32,000 a year, and for a middle-class family, this is a really big hit. So we have to ask, ‘is this model sustainable, and if it is not, how do we bring it under control?’

“What role does online education play in this? Does residency become more a luxury? Do we reduce it so there’s two years online and two years residency? There are many large questions to be answered, and I think this is going to become more and more of an issue moving forward.

“And this is for all public universities in all segments; this is not a UMass Amherst problem, and it’s not a UMass system problem. Affordability looms large for higher education in general, and what that implies for society.”


BusinessWest: Your tenure obviously included the pandemic years, a difficult and intense time for all those in higher education. What was it like to lead the school through that crisis?

Subbaswamy: “Toward the latter half of March 2020, we were just breaking for spring break, and just before then, we got the news that the virus was spreading, so we should shut down and send people home. We thought we were sending people home for one extra week; little did we know that was going to be a more-than-two-year deal before we returned to normalcy, whatever that means.

“Like everyone else in the country, we had the enormous task of adjusting to remote learning and remote work in a matter of two weeks … and, along the way, there were decisions for which there was no rulebook; in fact, whatever rules or guidelines were there were changing on a daily basis.

“There were decisions we had to make — like, in the middle of the semester, do we send everyone home? Or at the beginning of the semester, do we bring everyone back, or only a small percentage of the students? If so, how many, and who? And the town was worried: ‘you’re going to bring back 10,000 students? You’re going to bring back 30,000 students? Do you know what that’s going to do to our community?’ At that time, the business community was really struggling and wanted to see the students come back.

“The uncertainties and the competing factors that had to be considered, and the speed with which decisions had to be made, was nothing like what we were ever used to or learned or how any management book would tell you how to do it. We had to make decisions on a rapid basis with a lot of uncertainty, and it was unusual in that you could say that, literally, lives were at stake.

“You were making life-and-death decisions; I don’t ever want to go through that again, and I’m thankful that we got it right, and there weren’t any campus-related COVID deaths that I’m aware of.”


UMass Amherst made dramatic leaps in the national rankings during Subbaswamy’s tenure.

BusinessWest: Talk some more about some of the hard decisions that had to be made and what it was like for you, as chancellor, to be the one ultimately making them. What was it like day-to-day and week-to week?

Subbaswamy: “By not bringing the students back in the fall of 2020, were ended up having to furlough, for a long period of time, more than 800 employees. That hurts — these are members of our community, and we did our best to make sure that they kept their health insurance and so forth. But nonetheless, lives were disrupted because of that.

“These were difficult and consequential decisions that affected people’s lives and livelihoods, and I don’t wish this upon my successor. It was tense; from morning till evening, you were getting constant reports about what’s going on, how many people were in isolation, how many people are in quarantine, what’s going on in the town. — you were getting daily reports on cases, hospitalizations, if there were any, and much more. And in the middle of all that, we were having internal discussions about how to manage the budget because, between the two fiscal years, we had a $200 million revenue loss. How do you recover from that?

“It was a situation where we couldn’t govern by consensus, even within the leadership team, because there were members who felt very strongly, in one direction or the other, that they were right. But two factions can’t both be right, and I had to make decisions based on my best judgment rather than arriving at a consensus, which is what we usually do. It was very tense, and you just hoped that you made the right decision.”


BusinessWest: What did you learn about yourself as a manager and a leader through that time?

Subbaswamy: “I couldn’t show my own frustrations and my own self-doubt in terms of whether I’m making the right call. You have to provide confidence to everyone that we know what we’re doing. As a leader, you always have to put on a strong front, show composure, and show resolve, and that takes its toll, especially when you go back home and start reflecting on the decisions you’ve made.

“By listening and using what experience has taught you over the years, you tend to make the right calls. It was a very stressful time. That’s why you’re seeing a lot of people, even younger people, leave jobs, leave presidencies, because those were very stressful times. No one was happy, everyone wanted something different, and they took out their frustrations on the university.”


BusinessWest: How did higher education change because of the pandemic, and what has changed forever?

Subbaswamy: ‘Fundamentally, online education came to be accepted as a result of the pandemic. Until then, there was sort of a significant prejudice that online wasn’t good enough. Residential universities thought of it as second-class education. But once everyone was forced to go online, you saw two things: you can’t suddenly say, ‘we’re giving you a second-class education and charging you first-class rates,’ so people started taking notice of the fact that you can, and must, do just as well. And secondly, everyone was really surprised by how much technology had improved in recent times — and even in real time.

“Zoom became the coin of the realm, and its improvements became accelerated because they had the investment money to do so. In classes and in business, everyone started being connected online in very effective ways. The advantages of remote work, the efficacy and the ability to conduct business, including learning and teaching online, has fundamentally changed to the point where you’re seeing what we call UMass Flex — where flexible work is the way of the future. We will get to a state where UMass Amherst can be experienced almost just as well, in ways that matter, from wherever you are.”


BusinessWest: Finally, do you have any advice for your successor?

Subbaswamy: “I would first advise him to learn the local culture and work within those cultural norms in order to bring about change. You can’t bring about change unless you’re willing to understand and work inside that culture.

“Ours is a very consultative and participatory campus, where students have their say, and our faculty and staff have their say, both through normal governance but also unions. So someone who builds trust and is accessible and available, and works through our established procedures and consultative process, will succeed.”



Some Big Shoes to Fill


Javier Reyes, the incoming chancellor of UMass Amherst, was introduced to the local media — and took a few questions — at a session on the campus earlier this month.

On subjects ranging from the Blarney Blowout to his management style; from why he pursued this particular job to his thoughts on the relative worth of college rankings today, he said … well, mostly what you would expect.

That was especially true when he was asked by BusinessWest what it would be like to follow in the very large footsteps of Kumble Subbaswamy, who has served as chancellor for the past 11 years and is credited with taking the university to a higher plane when it comes to everything from prestige (and those rankings; the school is now 26th among American public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report) to research dollars.

So much so that UMass President Marty Meehan opined at the same media session that the UMass chancellor’s job is now far more attractive than it was years ago, one able to draw the top candidates.

That includes Reyes, who has most recently served as interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago. He told those assembled that, when it comes to following Subbaswamy, he understands there is perhaps more pressure than if this was a turnaround assignment, as many schools are providing these days, but he welcomes that pressure.

“You’re not coming in to repair something, but to build on the shoulders of giants — and that is a very attractive opportunity,” he said of his decision to come to UMass Amherst and work to keep the school on its current pace and angle of ascent. “You’re not trying to catch up; you’re really trying to move and set the direction and be a forward leader … It comes with more pressure, but it’s more exciting.”

‘Exciting’ would be just one of the words we could use to describe this assignment. ‘Daunting’ also comes to mind. That’s because, while it isn’t easy to put a major university on a higher trajectory, it is certainly more difficult to maintain such a course.

To do that requires real leadership and both a desire to continually set the bar higher and the will to clear that higher bar.

We hope that Reyes, the university’s first Hispanic chancellor, can meet this stern challenge because, as we’ve said on many, many occasions, UMass Amherst is an extremely important economic engine for this region and a source of innovation and entrepreneurial energy. Meanwhile, its graduates — at least those that we can keep in this market — are a key ingredient in the success formula of businesses all across the 413, and across the state as well.

Using every measuring stick but the football team (a sore subject to be sure), UMass took critical steps forward during Subbaswamy’s tenure in terms of new building and expansion of the campus; enrollment; research dollars; diversity, equity, and inclusion; rankings for the university and specific schools, such as the Isenberg School of Business; and the institution’s ability to attract top talent, meaning students, faculty, and staff.

Swamy, as most everyone called him, has taken the university to a place it hadn’t been before. It will be Reyes’ assignment to not merely maintain the status quo, but take it further still.

He sounds like he’s up for a challenge, and that’s good, because this will be one.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst will lead the New England Region 1 consortium — one of 10 regional university transportation centers (UTCs) — for the U.S. Department of Transportation under a five-year, $15 million grant. The goal of the centers is to advance state-of-the-art transportation research, technology, and safety.

The colleges and universities comprising New England’s Region 1 consortium led by UMass Amherst include the University of Connecticut, MIT, the University of Maine, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Rhode Island, and Norwich University, as well as Bunker Hill and Holyoke community colleges.

The UTC program has been congressionally mandated since 1987, and each consortium includes two- and four-year colleges and universities that form a unique center of transportation excellence on a specific research topic. There are five national centers, 20 Tier 1 centers, and 10 regional centers in the U.S.

“I am thrilled that the University of Massachusetts Amherst will now lead the New England Region’s University Transportation Center,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said. “Billions of dollars are being invested through the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and now UMass will be at the forefront of ensuring that this money is spent wisely, justly, and efficiently.”

President Biden’s infrastructure package included $90 million in funding per year for the competitively selected UTC program grants. The DOT received 230 grant applications, which represents the largest number of applications ever submitted in the 35-year history of the UTC program.

“The University of Massachusetts Amherst has been quite active within the UTC program since its inception, and we are excited about the society impact of the research and education developed within this new UTC,” said Michael Knodler Jr., director of the UMass Transportation Center and associate dean for Research & Graduate Affairs and professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the UMass College of Engineering. “Despite traffic-safety advances, roadway fatalities in 2021 were the highest in over a decade, and up more than 10% from 2020. The traffic fatality rate per mile is significantly higher for Black and Hispanic Americans when compared to White Americans, and those of low socioeconomic status are more likely to be involved in fatal crashes.”

Shannon Roberts will serve as the associate director of the New England UTC. She is an assistant professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering and co-director of the Arbella Insurance Human Performance Laboratory.

“The time to make a generational impact in equitable transportation safety is now,” Roberts said.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics is offering 30 three-year scholarships to a diverse cohort of students majoring in mathematics and statistics, thanks to a $1.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The six-year project, called Enhancing Underrepresented Participation in Mathematics & Statistics: Mentoring from Junior to Master’s, will welcome its first cohort this fall, and will support each student for their junior and senior years, as well as through a one-year master’s program. The program will accept applications for the 2023 cohort until April 1.

“I am deeply invested in trying to increase diversity in the fields of math and statistics. The big question is how,” said Maryclare Griffin, assistant professor of Mathematics and Statistics.

She points to national statistics — in 2020, for instance, only 30 out of 2,031 PhDs granted to U.S. citizens and permanent residents went to black scholars, according to the NSF — to underscore how persistent the lack of diversity in her field is. “I decided to focus in at home, to look at what might be contributing to a lack of student engagement, enrollment, and success.”

Griffin discovered that one of the biggest barriers is financial, as “students of color borrow more, at higher rates. If you look at who gets math and stats degrees, they tend to be people who don’t have to borrow as much.”

To begin to address this problem, Griffin has teamed up with four co-investigators at UMass Amherst: Adena Calden, senior lecturer of Mathematics and Statistics; Nathaniel Whitaker, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences; Farshid Hajir, senior vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Education; and Inanc Baykur, professor of Mathematics and Statistics. Together, and in collaboration with many other professors in the department of Mathematics and Statistics, they designed a program that will award scholarships of $10,000 per year to academically qualified students who can demonstrate financial need.

To introduce the students to cutting-edge research in the field, each will also receive $4,000 per summer for two summers of additional research. Finally, the team will bring in experts from the Center for Minorities in the Mathematical Sciences to train UMass faculty in how to best support the success of historically underrepresented student populations.

Students will apply for the scholarship in their sophomore year and will be supported through their final two years of undergraduate study as well as through their pursuit of a master’s degree in math. “What we’re expecting is that students will hear about this early — even in high school,” Griffin said, adding that her colleagues are working to recruit students from UMass as well as from area community colleges.

Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment in math-related fields to grow by 27% by 2029, Griffin’s project blazes a path for diversifying not only the student body, but the wider profession as well.

“The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is striving to create an abundant, supportive, and diverse community,” Whitaker said. “I’m delighted to bring this opportunity to UMass students. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important priorities for me; we must ensure that students feel like they belong and clear the barriers to success wherever possible. The S-STEM program is a critical step in making the mathematics and statistics field more accessible and diverse.”

For more information as well as a link to the 2023 application, visit people.math.umass.edu/~sstem.

Architecture Special Coverage

Surveying the Landscape

Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan stands on the green roof of the John W. Olver Design Building.


It’s called Valley on Board.

The effort is part of a federally funded project by the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) that involves a comprehensive assessment and strategic planning of transportation routes, services, and facilities throughout the region, one that aims to inform the design of a sustainable transit system to support economic vitality across the Pioneer Valley into the future.

One goal of Valley on Board (VoB) is to develop a route redesign that will serve the PVTA and the Pioneer Valley for at least 20 years into the future while achieving goals such as increased ridership, improved efficiency, and enhanced accessibility and equity of the system.

Since the summer of 2021, graduate students under the guidance of Camille Barchers, assistant professor of Regional Planning at UMass Amherst, have been working with the PVTA on the VoB initiative.

“They did many, many public participation activities to get people’s feedback across the region about what they wanted, what’s working, what’s not working. And they also did mapping of routes to find what areas are served and what areas can be served better,” said Robert Ryan, professor and chair of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning (LARP), the innovative, cross-disciplinary department at UMass whose graduates — and, often, current students — are impacting communities everywhere in disciplines like urban planning, sustainable living, climate resilience, transportation planning, and others.

“Landscape architects are licensed by the state to do work on designing landscapes — it could be with a building, without a building, campus-planning work, stormwater management, schoolyard design, streetscapes, large-scale open-space planning, that sort of thing,” Ryan explained. “Regional planning is for students who may want to work as municipal planners in the Commonwealth or with a regional planning agency or as a planning consultant; it’s similar to an urban planning degree.”

The Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning department provides professionally accredited degrees (MRP, MLA, BSLA); a sustainable community development degree that UMass touts as one of the most innovative sustainability-focused undergraduate degrees in the country; a skills-based, two-year associate of landscape contracting degree; and a PhD in regional planning. The department’s website claims that “we research, design, teach, and do community outreach to create sustainable solutions to complex problems.”

To that end, students have worked on greenway rail-trail projects in the region, new park and plaza design and redevelopment, residential design, office-plaza design, and public work for cities and towns, Ryan said, through entities like the UMass Design Center in Springfield, which engages in research and projects to create healthier, more sustainable, more walkable cities.

“That’s the landscape-architecture side,” he went on. “On the planning side, they might work on transportation planning, economic development, or land-use planning for a municipality. Certainly in this region, you often find you’re working in places that are built, so it might be a redevelopment project within a larger town or city.”

Students work on climate-change adaptation planning as well, Ryan said. “With the impact climate change is having everywhere, how can we adapt to that changing climate? And how do we sort of mitigate climate impacts by the development we’re doing?”

He said a combined Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning department may be uncommon in secondary education, but the projects and issues students and graduates tackle lend credence to the model. And those issues are only becoming more prominent.

“The way that municipalities approach this sort of thing has created an evolution of the program as well,” he told BusinessWest. “When you look at city planning these days, the importance of sustainability and some of the environmental focus have shifted in just the time I’ve been here. There are so many sustainability officers doing hazard-vulnerability plans for municipalities, doing climate-change vulnerability plans. I think cities are more attuned to that impact and how they should plan for it.”

Cities are particularly interested in alternative transportation, he noted, from bike lanes and enhanced train and bus service to creating more pedestrian access and walkable downtowns.

“The master planning for many cities is to make them more walkable and use more public transportation to make it more habitable. That’s an equity issue and a safety issue as well, because if you don’t own a car, or you can’t afford a car, and you need to take the bus and then walk to work or school, then you need a safe place to do that. There are a lot of federal funds and state funds to help cities do that.”


Evolving Picture

Graduates of LARP work in a number of intriguing fields, some of them centered on climate resilience.

“That’s what I’m most involved in,” Ryan said. “Green infrastructure is using natural systems to clean stormwater to provide climate-change adaptation to cool urban cities, to deal with water cleansing, that sort of thing. That’s a big issue in a lot of our cities that have EPA declarations; we have to clean the water up in the city, to kind of capture stormwater and treat it — instead of a catchbasin, using natural systems like ponds and pools to collect it, allowing sediment to drain out and cleaning the water before it goes into natural water bodies.”

The John W. Olver Design Building, which houses LARP (more on that later), is a good example, he explained. “There’s water that comes off our roof and adjacent parking lots, and then it’s treated in these rain gardens, these sort of swales around the building.”

Some cities are also making an effort toward urban greening, he added, planting more trees along streets to cool the city and make it more aesthetically pleasing for pedestrians.

Another specialized focus for LARP students is preservation of cultural landscapes, such as cemeteries, historic homes, and state parks. Students have been able to work with the National Park Service, the National Forest Service, and state historical groups on such issues.

“As landscapes change, trees grow, things fall down outside, so can you restore that landscape to something that might have been historically?” Ryan asked, pointing to recent efforts in Franklin Park in Boston as one example. “It was designed over 140 years ago. So there’s parts of that park that have changed over time. So which part do you preserve, and which part can you redevelop? Which parts do you change?”

Many students also develop a passion for biodiversity, he added.

“Can we change the design aesthetic of what’s been planted around our buildings and landscapes to plant more native plants and species that will then promote the biodiversity that’s native to the region? You can have your lawn, which is nice and beautiful, but doesn’t have a lot of biodiversity associated with it, or you can replace it with something that’s native plants and trees, and you can increase the biodiversity associated with that.”

The Olver Design Building reflects that priority as well; it’s a former parking lot that how boasts a green roof featuring native plants. But it’s much more than that.

Touted by UMass as the most technologically advanced cross-laminated timber (CLT) building in the country, the structure opened in 2017 to house three academic units: the department of Architecture, the Building and Construction Technology Program, and LARP.

Built of CLT timber and glue-laminated columns, the 87,000-square-foot facility saves the equivalent of over 2,300 metric tons of carbon when compared to a traditional energy-intensive steel and concrete building. It is one of just two buildings in North America using CLT for wind and seismic resistance.

The building has won numerous awards since its opening, from the WoodWorks Wood Design Awards, where it won Jury’s Choice for Wood Innovation, to the American Institute for Architecture’s (AIA) Committee on the Environment Top Ten Awards. Most recently, the AIA cited the building again with one of its 2023 AIA Awards for Architecture.

“The LEED Gold-certified building was constructed with a cutting-edge composite cross-laminated timber system, taking its cues from the Building and Construction Technology department’s research on mass timber,” the AIA noted. “It is the largest such building in the United States, demonstrating the university’s commitment to sustainability and innovation. The building’s envelope functions as a protective weather jacket that shields its wood structure. A durable rain screen enclosure composed of copper anodized aluminum panels and vertical windows suggest the patterns of historic tobacco barns and the region’s forests.”


Passion for Preservation

That language, again, reflects the balance of preservation, development, and sustainability at the heart of LARP studies — and the hearts of its students, who often see this work as mission-driven.

“Especially in our graduate programs, people are sometimes changing careers to come back to school via Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning,” Ryan said. “They’re really devoted to making the world a better place, which might include making cities healthier and greener, or dealing with degraded landscapes and healing them and bringing natural systems back. They could be promoting equity in our cities via more affordable housing or transportation. So there are definitely folks who have that passion to come in and do this sort of work.”

They’re also encountering a strong market for job seekers; Ryan says he posts job openings he comes across every day.

“All the firms I talk to are growing, and they can’t find the employees, so graduates are very sought after,” he added. “We do innovation here, but it’s also practical — when you graduate, you can work as a professional in a public or private office and do this work. And we have a lot of examples in our classes where you’re doing work with real clients, not just as an internship, but as a regular class.”

Like those graduate students working to improve transportation — and quality of life — close to home.

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AMHERST — Scientists at UMass Massachusetts Amherst recently announced the invention of a nanowire 10,000 times thinner than a human hair that can be cheaply grown by common bacteria and tuned to ‘smell’ a vast array of chemical tracers — including those given off by people afflicted with a wide range of medical conditions, such as asthma and kidney disease.

Thousands of these specially tuned wires, each sniffing out a different chemical, can be layered onto tiny, wearable sensors, allowing healthcare providers an unprecedented tool for monitoring potential health complications. Since these wires are grown by bacteria, they are organic, biodegradable, and far greener than any inorganic nanowire.

To make these breakthroughs, which were detailed in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectrics, senior authors Derek Lovley, distinguished professor of Microbiology at UMass Amherst, and Jun Yao, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering at UMass Amherst, needed to look no farther than their own noses.

“Human noses have hundreds of receptors, each sensitive to one specific molecule,” Yao said. “They are vastly more sensitive and efficient than any mechanical or chemical device that could be engineered. We wondered how we could leverage the biological design itself rather than rely on a synthetic material.”

In other words, the team wondered if they could work with nature to sniff out disease — and it turns out they have done just that.

The answer begins with a bacterium known as Geobacter sulfurreducens, which Lovley and Yao previously used to create a biofilm capable of producing long-term, continuous electricity from one’s sweat. G. sulfurreducens has the surprising natural ability to grow tiny, electrically conductive nanowires.

But G. sulfurreducens is a finicky bacterium that needs specific conditions in which to grow, making it difficult to use at scale. “What we’ve done,” Lovley said, “is to take the ‘nanowire gene’ — called pilin — out of G. sulfurreducens and splice it into the DNA of Escherichia coli, one of the most widespread bacteria in the world.”

Once the pilin gene was removed from G. sulfurreducens, Lovley, Yao, and the team modified it to include a specific peptide, known as DLESFL, which is extremely sensitive to ammonia — a chemical often present in the breath of those with kidney disease. When they then spliced the modified pilin gene into E. coli’s DNA, the genetically tweaked bacterium sprouted tiny nanowires bristling with the ammonia-sensing peptide. The team then harvested these ammonia-sensitive nanowires and built them into a sensor.

“Genetically modifying the nanowires made them 100 times more responsive to ammonia than they were originally,” said Yassir Lekbach, the paper’s co-lead author and a postdoctoral researcher in Microbiology at UMass Amherst. “The microbe-produced nanowires function much better as sensors than previously described sensors fabricated with traditional silicon or metal nanowires.”

And there’s no need to limit these new sensors to only ammonia and kidney disease. Toshiyuki Ueki, the paper’s other co-lead author and research professor in Microbiology at UMass Amherst, noted that “it’s possible to design unique peptides, each of which specifically binds a molecule of interest. So, as more tracer molecules emitted by the body and which are specific to a particular disease are identified, we can make sensors that incorporate hundreds of different chemical-sniffing nanowires to monitor all sorts of health conditions.”

Traditional nanowires, made from silicon or carbon fiber, can be highly toxic — carbon nanotubes are themselves carcinogens — and end up as non-biodegradable e-waste. Their raw materials can require enormous amounts of energy and chemical inputs to harvest and process, as well as leaving a deep environmental impact. But because Lovley and Yao’s nanowires are grown from common bacteria, they are far more sustainable.

“One of the most exciting things about this line of research is that we’re taking electrical engineering in a fundamentally new direction,” Yao said. “Instead of wires made from scarce raw resources that won’t biodegrade, the beauty of these protein nanowires is that you can use life’s genetic design to build a stable, versatile, low impact, and cost-effective platform.”

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and nurtured by the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst, which combines deep and interdisciplinary expertise from 29 departments to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit human health and well-being.

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AMHERST — The UMass Amherst chancellor search committee has selected two finalists: Javier Reyes, interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC); and Paul Tikalsky, dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture & Technology at Oklahoma State University (OSU).

Since last July, Reyes has led UIC as interim chancellor. UIC is Chicago’s largest university campus, with more than 33,000 students. The university, which holds the R1 research status in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, is classified as a Minority Serving Institution, a Hispanic Serving Institution, and an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution.

With more than $440 million in research awards, the institution ranks among the top 65 out of more than 650 national universities in federal research funding. Reyes is responsible for a $3.6 billion budget, 13,000 faculty and staff, and 16 academic colleges, including one of the nation’s largest medical schools and Chicago’s only public law school.

Prior to his service as interim chancellor, Reyes was provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at UIC. As provost, he advised on matters of academic policy, strategic direction, enrollment management, and academic resource planning. He was responsible for all academic affairs and for fulfilling the mission of providing students with inclusive access to academic excellence and opportunity. As chief academic officer for UIC, he worked to support and retain close to 3,000 faculty and recruit the next generation of diverse scholars, researchers, and medical professionals for the institution.

Tikalsky is completing his 11th year as dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology at OSU. A leading scholar in the development of long-life sustainable materials, Tikalsky is also known as an advocate for the public and land-grant university’s role in higher education, engaging diverse students in experiential learning and resourcing large-scale innovation in trans-disciplinary research.

Tikalsky has spent more than three decades as an award-winning professor and academic leader at public R1 and land-grant universities, raising more than $250 million for student success and scholarships, faculty support, and building world-class facilities for teaching and research. He successfully engaged state regents, industrial leaders, legislators, and public agencies to create the case that increased higher-education funding by more than $125 million over the next 10 years through the Oklahoma Engineering Initiative. At OSU, he has transformed the college with initiatives that finish more degrees in four years, provide pre-college bridge and STEM programs for students from economically disadvantaged communities, elevate academic standards, and increase the diversity of the students and faculty.

Previously, Tikalsky was chair of Civil & Environmental (Nuclear) Engineering at the University of Utah and the deputy director of the Larson Transportation Institute at Penn State University.

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AMHERST — A team of researchers, led by Trisha Andrew, professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at UMass Amherst, recently announced that they have synthesized a new material that solves one of the most difficult problems in the quest to create wearable, unobtrusive sensitive sensors: the problem of pressure.

“Imagine comfortable clothing that would monitor your body’s movements and vital signs continuously, over long periods of time,” Andrew said. “Such clothing would give clinicians fine-grained details for remote detection of disease or physiological issues.”

One way to get this information is with tiny electromechanical sensors that turn the body’s movements — such as the faint pulse felt by placing a hand on one’s chest — into electrical signals. But what happens when someone receives a hug or takes a nap lying on their stomach? “That increased pressure overwhelms the sensor, interrupting the flow of data, and so the sensor becomes useless for monitoring natural phenomena,” Andrew noted.

To solve this problem, the team developed a sensor that keeps working even when hugged, sat upon, leaned on, or otherwise squished by everyday interactions. The secret, which was detailed in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, lies in vapor-printing clothing fabrics with piezoionic materials. With this method, even the smallest body movement, such as a heartbeat, leads to the redistribution of ions throughout the sensor. In other words, the fabric turns the mechanical motion of the body into an electrical signal, which can then be monitored.

Zohreh Homayounfar, lead author of the study and a graduate student at UMass Amherst, noted that “this is the first fabric-based sensor allowing for real-time monitoring of sensitive target populations, from workers laboring in stressful industrial settings to kids and rehabilitation patients.”

Of particular advantage is that this all-fabric sensor can be worn in comfortable, loose-fitting clothing rather than embedded in tight-fitting fabrics or stuck directly onto the skin. This makes it far easier for the sensors to gather long-term data, such as heartbeats, respiration, joint movement, vocalization, step counts, and grip strength — a crucial health indicator that can help clinicians track everything from bone density to depression.

Andrew and her group will next use an array of the pressure sensors under additional scenarios to determine what other types of physiological signals can be extracted, and to what accuracy.

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SAN FRANCISCO — Daniel Ellsberg, one of the nation’s foremost political activists and whistleblowers, was awarded an honorary degree by UMass Amherst in a ceremony held Saturday, Jan. 21 in the San Francisco, where Ellsberg resides.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy lauded Ellsberg’s devotion to public service, saying, “we honor you for a lifetime of truth telling that demonstrates how dissent can be the highest form of patriotism and citizenship. We thank you for inspiring others to follow your example.”

Following a decade as a high-level government official, researcher, and consultant, Ellsberg distributed the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing decades of deceit by American policymakers during the Vietnam War. Since the end of the war, Ellsberg has been a lecturer, scholar, writer, and activist on the dangers of the nuclear era, wrongful U.S. interventions, and the urgent need for patriotic whistleblowing. Ellsberg has been deeply engaged with UMass Amherst since 2019, when, impressed by the university’s longstanding commitment to social justice, he chose to make it the home for his papers.

The ceremony, attended by family, friends, and dignitaries, included an academic processional and remarks by Subbaswamy; UMass President Marty Meehan; U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California; former California Gov. Jerry Brown; Barbara Krauthamer, dean of the UMass College of Humanities and Fine Arts; Lynda Resnick, vice chair and co-owner of the Wonderful Company; Robert Pollin, UMass distinguished professor of Economics; and Christian Appy, UMass professor of History and director of the university’s Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy.

Ellsberg expressed deep appreciation for the honor, noting that he has found an institutional home at UMass that supports his work and ideals. “This is actually the first institutional community that I’ve been in for 50 years, since I left RAND IN 1970 and MIT in 1972 when they terminated my fellowship at the Center for International Studies because I was on trial.”

The Ellsberg collection at UMass is a vast treasure trove — 500 boxes of materials — that documents the still-relevant issues of his long life: the threats posed by nuclear weapons, the expansion of U.S. imperial ambition, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the proliferation of state secrecy, freedom of the press and First Amendment rights, the struggle for a more democratic and accountable foreign policy, and the challenges of civic courage and nonviolent dissent.

In 2020-21, inspired by the arrival of Ellsberg’s papers, the university sponsored a host of historic ventures to explore his life and legacy: a yearlong seminar, the creation of a website (the Ellsberg Archive Project), a series of podcasts by the GroundTruth Project, and a two-day, international, online conference with more than two dozen high-profile scholars, journalists, former policymakers, whistleblowers, and activists that was attended by thousands. Videos of conference sessions hosted on the website have drawn more than 25,000 viewers.

As a next step, UMass is launching the Ellsberg Initiative for Peace and Democracy to highlight the value of the Ellsberg archive and to engage the public in the vital issues so central to Ellsberg’s legacy. The initiative, under the direction of Appy, believes that, with democracy under attack at home and abroad — and the dangers posed by climate change, disease, and warfare as great as ever — the need for this initiative could not be more urgent. The events of the past two years alone suggest the need for universities to engage students and the public in serious learning and discussion about the historical roots of our most pressing problems and the actions that our society might take now to resolve them.

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AMHERST — A dozen UMass Amherst researchers representing a wide range of disciplines have been recognized as among the world’s most highly cited researchers in 2022.

The list is generated by the Web of Science database of analytics provider Clarivate. The highly cited papers rank in the top 1% by citations for their field and publication year, span 69 countries or regions, and are spread across a diverse range of research fields in the sciences and social sciences.

The highly cited UMass Amherst researchers for 2022 are three food scientists, Professor Eric Decker, Distinguished Professor David Julian McClements, and Professor and Clydesdale Scholar of Food Science Hang Xiao; two microbiologists, Kelly Nevin and Derek Lovley; Distinguished Professor in Chemistry Vincent Rotello; Armstrong/Siadat Endowed Professor of Chemical Engineering Nianqiang “Nick” Wu; Director of Stockbridge School of Agriculture and Professor of Environmental and Soil Sciences Baoshan Xing; Silvio O. Conte Distinguished Professor of Polymer Science and Engineering Thomas Russell; Hospitality and Tourism Management Provost Professor Muzaffer “Muzzo” Uysal; Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs and School of Public Health and Health Sciences Professor Laura Vandenberg; and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Qiangfei Xia.

This year, Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) teamed with Retraction Watch to deepen qualitative analysis of the list to improve detection of potential misconduct such as plagiarism, image manipulation, and fake peer review. Researchers found to have committed scientific misconduct in formal proceedings conducted by a researcher’s institution, a government agency, a funder or a publisher were excluded from the list of Highly Cited Researchers.

“Research misconduct is an ever-increasing concern in our world. Activities such as unusual citation activity and fake peer review may represent efforts to game the system and create self-generated status,” said David Pendlebury, head of Research Analysis at ISI. “This is why we’ve expanded our qualitative analysis this year to ensure the Highly Cited Researchers list reflects genuine, community-wide research influence. Our efforts are part of a wider responsibility across the whole research community to better police itself and uphold research integrity.”

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AMHERST — UMass Amherst has received a $7 million gift from an anonymous donor to build a UMass Service Workers Honor Pavilion, recognizing the vital contributions provided to the university community by these dedicated employees.

The pavilion will be constructed on land adjacent to the Arthur F. Kinney Center for Renaissance Studies off East Pleasant Street. The open-air facility will be a valuable community asset, open for quiet contemplation as well as gatherings. The pavilion is being designed by architect Sigrid Miller Pollin, UMass professor emerita, who is donating her time and expertise. Construction will begin soon, with the facility expected to be completed by next summer.

“This beautiful new addition to campus will be dedicated to our service workers who played an immense role in sustaining the university during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will provide an enduring reminder of their importance to UMass Amherst,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “We are deeply grateful for all they do each day, and for our donor’s generous gift.

The chancellor noted that the anonymous donor was inspired by the frontline service provided by the approximately 1,400 UMass employees who cook and serve food on campus, clean and maintain buildings, operate campus stores, and more generally deliver, day in and day out, a flourishing teaching, research, and learning environment.

Everyone associated with UMass, as well as the general public, will be able to enjoy the pavilion and its natural surroundings. The university especially welcomes opportunities for service workers to organize family outings at the pavilion.

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AMHERST — UMass Amherst has been designated as a Bike Friendly University (BFU) by the League of American Bicyclists, a grassroots advocacy organization encouraging better bicycling and protecting the rights of people who bike. UMass Amherst is one of only eight universities in Massachusetts to receive the commendation for providing safe, accessible biking on campus.

“We first applied for the designation in 2012 and didn’t quite make the list, receiving an honorable mention at the time,” said Ezra Small, campus sustainability manager. “This bronze award shows that UMass Amherst is committed to promoting bicycling as a healthy, environmentally friendly way of getting around campus and that we have improved our bike access significantly over the past decade.”

Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, noted that “I am pleased to celebrate 37 new and renewing Bicycle Friendly Universities joining the movement to build a bicycle-friendly America for everyone. Bicycle Friendly Universities, like UMass Amherst, offer a far more holistic experience of campus life for students, faculty, and staff by implementing policies, programs, and infrastructure improvements that make for safer and easier car-free commutes, healthier lives through increased physical activity, and a campus community more connected to its surroundings.”

Providing bike-friendly accommodations is a vital part of the university’s Sustainable UMass initiative. In recent years, four-foot-wide bicycle lanes have been constructed on the primary campus roadways of Massachusetts Avenue, North Pleasant Street, and Commonwealth Avenue to promote safe bike travel. In 2016, the university expanded its bike access for students, faculty, and staff by becoming a founding member of ValleyBike Share, and six bike-share stations are now spread across campus to allow students, faculty, and staff to easily rent and return bikes.

The UMass Bicycle Commuter Program coordinates the Campus Bicycle Advisory Committee to help the university prioritize bike-related goals on campus, and the UMass Amherst Bike Library rental program, operated by the Student Government Assoc. and the Physical Plant, lets students, faculty, and staff borrow bikes for free, for as long as an entire academic year.

Landscape architecture and regional planning major Ryan Griffis was instrumental in completing the university’s application, Small said.

UMass joins Harvard, MIT, UMass Lowell, Bentley University, Tufts University, and Boston University’s Charles River and medical-school campuses as Bike Friendly Universities. Since the program launched in 2011, such designations have been certified at 222 U.S. colleges and universities in 47 states.

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AMHERST — UMass Amherst and state officials broke ground on Thursday for the new, $125 million Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences building, designed to respond to enormous growth in the college’s enrollment over the past five years and provide talent to fuel business growth and research collaborations that benefit the entire Commonwealth.

The new facility is substantially funded by a $75 million state capital commitment from the Baker-Polito administration. The building will expand facilities by creating approximately 90,000 gross square feet in new space devoted to the college’s community-building, research, and teaching missions.

Speakers at the groundbreaking included UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, UMass President Marty Meehan, board of trustees Chair Robert Manning, trustees Steve Karam and Mary Burns, Provost Tricia Serio, Manning CICS Dean Laura Haas, and Distinguished Professor Prashant Shenoy.

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AMHERST — Massachusetts businessman and philanthropist Robert Epstein has made a commitment of $1.5 million to establish the Robert L. Epstein Endowed Professorship in UMass Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management. The gift honors Epstein’s friendship with UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and the chancellor’s decade of service to the university.

The Epstein Endowed Professorship will help attract or retain an outstanding faculty member, with a preference for faculty in hospitality and tourism management, who will strengthen the academic excellence of the Isenberg School of Management and advance industry knowledge through research, scholarship, and inspired teaching. The fund will cover costs such as salary supplementation, education and travel expenses, graduate assistantships, research expenses, and support services for the faculty member’s program.

Epstein, who earned a degree in marketing from the Isenberg School of Management in 1967, has been an ambassador for the university and an ardent supporter of Isenberg faculty and students. He has served as a member of the UMass Amherst Foundation board since 2010 and was appointed to the UMass board of trustees in 2015. In addition, he co-chaired UMass Rising, the largest fundraising campaign in UMass Amherst history; served as a guest lecturer at Isenberg; established the Robert L. Epstein Endowed Scholarship; and supported Isenberg’s Business Innovation Hub, among other university priorities.

For years, Epstein has been a leader in the beverage and alcohol industry. As co-owner and president of the Horizon Beverage Group and former chairman of Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, he has worked with producers, unions, legislators, and more than 15,000 retail and restaurant customers. With his gift, he aims to enhance the reputation of UMass Amherst and Isenberg within the hospitality industry and provide the university with the resources it needs to retain world-class faculty to mold the next generation of industry leaders.

“I have been inspired by the innovation and growth UMass and Isenberg have seen under Chancellor Subbaswamy’s leadership,” Epstein said. “The university is attracting students of the highest caliber who are eager to make a difference in their chosen fields, and faculty scholarship has had a considerable impact both in the Commonwealth and on the national stage. It is an honor to contribute to this upward trajectory with a gift that will further bolster academic excellence in the Isenberg School of Management.”

The university hopes to appoint a faculty member to the Epstein Endowed Chair by July 1, 2025, when the fund will have been invested with the endowment for a full year.

“Faculty are the cornerstone of UMass Amherst’s ambitions to produce revolutionary scholarship and graduates who bring insight and ingenuity to a host of sectors around the world,” Subbaswamy said. “I deeply appreciate my friendship with Bob. He has provided me important guidance along the way, and I am inspired by his dedication to his work, including his role on the foundation board and the board of trustees. His generosity will provide untold benefits for our students and industry partners in the years to come.”

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AMHERST — Tricia Serio has been named provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at UMass Amherst. She started her new position on July 18.

Serio previously served as dean of the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) and associate chancellor for Strategic Academic Planning. Over the course of five years of service to UMass, she has demonstrated her strong commitment to academic excellence, student success, and faculty advancement. She has established a record of innovation, a collaborative and compassionate leadership style, and a commitment to systematic planning and data-informed decision making. As a first-generation college graduate, she has a passion for the university’s goal of inclusive excellence.

Serio joined UMass as dean of CNS in August 2017 after serving as professor and head of the department of Molecular And Cellular Biology at the University of Arizona. Her professional honors include the 2016 Mid-career Award for Excellence in Research from the American Society for Cell Biology, the Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences for 2003-07, and the National Cancer Institute’s Howard Temin Award for 2001-06. In 2022, she was selected to be a fellow in the American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the pre-eminent scientific institution in the U.S.

Serio earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Lehigh University and a master of philosophy degree and Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. She was a postdoctoral fellow in molecular genetics and cell biology at the University of Chicago.

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SPRINGFIELD — UMass Amherst will host on-the-spot hiring interviews today, July 28, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Tower Square, located at 1500 Main St. in downtown Springfield.

Representatives from the university will be on hand to provide details about more than 100 full-time, benefited positions available in a number of areas across campus, including catering, conference services, dining, facilities, grounds, maintenance, landscaping, and skilled trades.

Among the advantages of working at UMass Amherst are flexible schedules, competitive wages, career-advancement opportunities, educational course reimbursement, full medical benefits, and a state pension.

Two-hour parking validations for the Tower Square parking garage will be available for the event. Those interested in applying and interviewing for these opportunities are asked to bring non-expired, government-issued photo IDs. Examples include a state-issued driver’s license, state-issued ID card, passport, or military ID card.

For those unable to attend Thursday’s event in Springfield, additional on-the-spot interview events will be held at the Blue Wall in the UMass Amherst Campus Center on Aug. 2, 10, and 18.

Click here for more information about the hiring event at Tower Square and those to be held on campus in August, as well as the open positions the university seeks to fill.

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AMHERST — UMass Amherst has signed a series of memoranda of agreement with the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) to assist students and scholars affected by Russia’s war with Ukraine.

UMass Amherst’s new multi-level partnership with KSE will establish several modalities for Ukrainian students and scholars to be part of the UMass academic community. An academic exchange program for students will enable undergraduate and graduate students from Ukraine to study at UMass for a semester or academic year with nearly all costs waived.

In conjunction with the academic exchange program for students, a non-resident, virtual Scholar in Residence program will be created for scholars affiliated with KSE. Selected Ukrainian scholars will collaborate with centers, departments, and faculty at UMass Amherst on relevant research topics virtually and will receive a stipend through the KSE Foundation.

The agreements were finalized between March and July 2022 by KSE President Tymofiy Mylovanov and Rector Tymofii Brik and John McCarthy, now emeritus provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs for UMass Amherst.

Anna Nagurney, professor and the Eugene M. Isenberg Chair in Integrative Studies in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst, played a central role in driving these collaborative efforts. As a longstanding member of the International Academic Board at KSE, and now also co-chair of the board of directors at KSE, Nagurney was instrumental in nurturing the relationship between the two institutions. Most recently, Nagurney has been a leading expert in providing insights on Russia’s ongoing war with Ukraine.

Nagurney is thrilled about the opportunity for Ukrainian scholars to continue their research during this challenging time and hopes that this program will provide them with additional moral and professional support. “We expect good interaction with research centers, institutes, and departments,” she said. “I foresee fantastic research outcomes coming out of this program.”

These agreements resulted from UMass Amherst faculty’s call for more support for Ukrainian scholars and students. In a letter addressed to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and McCarthy on March 29, a group of UMass faculty, led by members of the Russian, Eurasian, and Polish Studies program, provided a detailed list of requests for action and urged senior leadership to act in support of students and scholars displaced by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Founded in 1996 by the Economics Education and Research Consortium and the Eurasia Foundation as a master’s program in economics, KSE is now a leading world academic institution. It currently offers degrees in programs such as economics, business analytics, mathematical economics, and public policy.

The UMass Amherst International Programs Office will be spearheading and overseeing these program initiatives through its units of Education Abroad and International Student and Scholar.

“It has been absolutely inspiring to work with our Ukrainian colleagues who are committed to maintaining the continuity of the academic experience in the face of terrible odds. As both Tymofiy Mylvanov and Tymofii Brik have shared in public fora, a strong, independent academic sector is crucial to Ukraine’s political and intellectual survival,” said Kalpen Trivedi, UMass Amherst’s vice provost for Global Affairs and director of the International Programs Office.

Senior administrative leaders at UMass Amherst are fully supportive of these programs to aid Ukrainian scholars and students. Nagurney is especially appreciative of the joint efforts by the administration, faculty, and senior staff leaders in ensuring that UMass offers many means of support for students and scholars. “What [KSE] have been doing in wartime has been absolutely awe-inspiring — still hosting top speakers virtually and even in person,” she said.

McCarthy added that “I enthusiastically support these efforts to assist our Ukrainian colleagues and their students in continuing their research, study, and teaching despite the war in their country.”


How Old Is the Water?

Dr. LeeAnn Munk

Dr. LeeAnn Munk collects water samples in Salar de Atacama.


A groundbreaking new study recently published in the journal Earth’s Future and led by researchers at UMass Amherst in collaboration with the University of Alaska Anchorage, is the first to comprehensively account for the hydrological impact of lithium mining. Since lithium is the key component of the lithium-ion batteries that are crucial for the transition away from fossil fuels and toward green energy — as well as necessity in many of today’s high-tech devices — it is critical to fully understand how to responsibly obtain the precious element.

Previous studies have not addressed two of the most important factors in determining whether lithium is obtained responsibly: the age and source of the water the lithium is found in. This first-of-its-kind study is the result of more than a decade of research, and it suggests that total water usage in the Salar de Atacama, a massive, arid Chilean salt flat encompassing approximately 850 square miles, is exceeding its resupply — though, as the team also points out, the impact of lithium mining itself is comparatively small. Lithium mining accounts for less than 10% of freshwater usage, and its brine extraction does not correlate with changes in either surface-water features or basin-water storage.

Lithium, said David Boutt, professor of Geosciences at UMass Amherst and one of the paper’s co-authors, is a strange element. It’s the lightest of the metals, but it doesn’t like to be in a solid form. Lithium tends to occur in layers of volcanic ash, but it reacts quickly with water. When rain or snowmelt moves through the ash layers, lithium leaches into the groundwater, moving downhill until it settles in a flat basin where it remains in solution as a briny mix of water and lithium. Because this brine is very dense, it often settles beneath pockets of fresh surface water, which float on top of the lithium-rich fluid below. These freshwater lagoons often become havens for unique and fragile ecosystems and iconic species such as flamingos.

More than 40% of the world’s proven lithium deposits are located in the Salar de Atacama, the site of the research. The Salar de Atacama is host to a number of ecologically unique wildlife preserves and is also the ancestral home of several Atacameño indigenous communities, with whom the UMass team worked. Because the salt flats are so ecologically sensitive and depend on scarce supplies of fresh water, the use of water in the Salar de Atacama runs the risk of disturbing both the ecological health of the region and indigenous ways of life.

Yet, up until now, there has been no comprehensive approach to gauging water use or lithium mining’s impact in the Salar de Atacama.

“To understand the environmental effect of lithium mining,” says Brendan Moran, a postdoctoral research associate in Geosciences at UMass Amherst and the lead author of the paper, “we need to understand the hydrology in the region the lithium is found. That hydrology is much more complex than previous researchers have given it credit for.”

To illustrate the complexity, and the previous misconception about the Salar de Atacama’s hydrology, Moran and Boutt drew on the metaphor of a bank account. Imagine that you get a paycheck every month; when you go to balance your checkbook, as long as your monthly expenditures don’t exceed your monthly income, you are financially sustainable. Previous studies of the Salar de Atacama have assumed that the infrequent rainfall and seasonal runoff from the mountain ranges that ring it were solely responsible for the water levels in the salt flats, but it turns out that assumption is incorrect.

Using a variety of water tracers that can track the path that water takes on its way to the Salar de Atacama, as well as the average age of water within different water bodies, including surface waters and sub-surface aquifers, Moran and his colleagues discovered that, though localized, recent rainfall is critically important, more than half of the freshwater feeding the wetlands and lagoons is at least 60 years old.

“Because these regions are so dry, and the groundwater so old,” Moran said, “the overall hydrological system responds very slowly to changes in climate, hydrology, and water usage.”

At the same time, short-term climate changes, such as the recent major drought and extreme precipitation events, can cause substantial and rapid changes to the surface water and the fragile habitats they sustain. Given that climate change is likely to cause more severe droughts over the region, it could further stress the area’s water budget.

To return to the accounting metaphor, the paycheck is likely getting smaller and isn’t coming monthly, but over a period of at least 60 years, which means researchers need to be monitoring water usage on a much longer time scale than they currently do, while also paying attention to major events, like droughts, in the region.

Complete hydrological monitoring requires additional tools paired with these geochemical tracers. The UMass and UAA teams used water usage data from the Chilean government and satellite imagery, which allowed them to assess the changing extent of wetlands over the past 40 years, as well as rain gauges and satellite measurements to determine changes in precipitation over the same period.

Given how long it takes for groundwater to move within the basin, “the effects of water overuse may still be making their way through the system and need to be closely monitored,” Moran said. “Potential impacts could last decades into the future.”

Ultimately, this comprehensive framework, which was funded by BMW Group and BASF, is applicable far beyond the Salar de Atacama. “It’s a modern approach to water management,” Boutt said.


A Powerful Argument

By Mark Morris


Ted Mendoza and Darci O’Connor note that the carbon-zero project at UMass Amherst will touch all of the more than 280 buildings on the campus.

Ted Mendoza and Darci O’Connor note that the carbon-zero project at UMass Amherst will touch all of the more than 280 buildings on the campus.

UMass Amherst chose Earth Day to announce an ambitious effort to convert the power systems for the entire campus to renewable energy by 2032.

UMass Carbon Zero puts the university at the “vanguard of a big idea,” according to UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy who added that the project will have ramifications far beyond the campus.

“For every advancement the university has made, there has always been support at the highest levels to create room for students to take part and learn.”

“UMass Amherst will be a leader of carbon-mitigation efforts in the Commonwealth while educating the next generation of leaders in sustainability,” Subbaswamy said. “Carbon Zero will also serve as a model for other large research universities as they pursue their own energy transitions.”

Massachusetts has set a target to reach carbon neutrality in all state systems by 2050. The UMass Carbon Zero effort has been in the works for two years to figure out the best way to achieve sustainability and a carbon-free future. The effort began with a task force that received input from hundreds of staff, faculty, and students to assess what it would take to move the entire campus to using renewable energy for all its heating, cooling, and electrical usage.

UMass officials estimate the project will cost at least $500 million over the 10 years, with funding expected from federal, state, corporate and philanthropic sources.

The main elements in designing a carbon-free system for the university will incorporate low-temperature hot water heating paired with geothermal heating and cooling. The plan also involves using a combination of battery-stored solar energy collected at UMass and purchasing energy from the green electrical grid.

Ted Mendoza, a capital projects manager for facilities at UMass Amherst noted that certain areas of campus make more sense for geothermal while other areas will incorporate low-temperature hot water heating.

“We have four buildings right now where we can run a pilot for geothermal and will expand that to 40 buildings,” Mendoza told BusinessWest. “What we learn from the pilot we will roll out to the entire campus.”

This large-scale transformation is not just a capital project. The university offers more than 500 classes on climate science, energy, technology, and other topics related to sustainability, so the Carbon Zero project will also be an opportunity to educate and train students.

“This is a chance to reboot our campus buildings and brand us as a destination for academic and operational interests. I see UMass attracting scholars, planners, engineers, and technicians looking to gain experience in the operation and maintenance of these new forward-thinking systems.”

In addition to the learning piece, students often provide new ideas, said Darci Connor Maresca, assistant director of the School of Earth Sustainability at UMass Amherst.

“There’s a value add in working with students because they push the envelope,” said Connor Maresca, adding that including students in major efforts is the way UMass does business.

“For every advancement the university has made, there has always been support at the highest levels to create room for students to take part and learn,” she said.

There’s data to back up the rationale for including students. Mendoza cited a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) survey that showed 91% of students agree that their place of study should actively incorporate and promote sustainable development.

“This is a chance to reboot our campus buildings and brand us as a destination for academic and operational interests,” Mendoza said. “I see UMass attracting scholars, planners, engineers, and technicians looking to gain experience in the operation and maintenance of these new forward-thinking systems.”

Both Maresca and Mendoza credit the UMass Chancellor as an early champion of the project. In many ways Subbaswamy sees UMass as a local community.

“Given our size, we are responsible for nearly 20% of overall greenhouse gas emissions among Massachusetts public facilities,” Subbaswamy said. “This makes us the single largest contributor among state entities. Our success in energy transition means success for the commonwealth.”

With a target date of 2032, it’s time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

“Unlike any other capital project we’ve ever taken on, this effort will have to touch all 280-plus buildings,” said Mendoza. “That means new and old; big and small; they are all part of the project to transition our entire campus to 100% renewable energy.”

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest, in partnership with Living Local, has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 110: May 2, 2022

George O’Brien talks with Ted Mendoza, a capital projects manager at UMass Amherst

BusinessWest Editor George O’Brien talks with Ted Mendoza, a capital projects manager at UMass Amherst about the school’s recently announced ‘carbon-zero’ project, a bold initiative to power the campus with 100% renewable energy within the next decade or so. The two discuss the coming steps in the process, the challenges and potential obstacles, and the hope that by reaching this ambitious goal, UMass may set a standard for others to follow. It’s all must listening, so join us on BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest in partnership with Living Local and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Daily News

AMHERST — U.S. Congressman Jim McGovern, who represents the 2nd District of Massachusetts, will be the featured speaker at the UMass Amherst undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 13 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.  

 The congressman will address an anticipated crowd of about 20,000 family members, friends and other guests as approximately 7,000 undergraduates receive their bachelor’s degrees at the Commonwealth’s flagship campus. 

 “Congressman McGovern has been a champion for human rights, an influential legislator in the fight to end food insecurity in America, and a tireless advocate for the people of Massachusetts,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “He played an important role in securing direct funding for UMass and our students through three COVID-19 relief bills during the pandemic. We are honored to have him as our featured speaker.” 

Among the congressman’s many accomplishments are his successful efforts to increase Pell Grant funding for low-income students, creating a program to provide nutritious meals in schools for millions of the world’s poorest children, and passing laws that target global human rights abusers with sanctions. 

The graduation ceremony for the undergraduate Class of 2022 is the 152nd UMass Amherst Commencement. Approximately 7,000 graduates are expected to receive their degrees at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on the UMass Amherst campus. The ceremony will be held rain or shine beginning at 4:30 p.m. and is scheduled to conclude at approximately 6:30 p.m. The ceremony is free and tickets are not required.  

Stadium gates open at 2 p.m. Guests should plan to arrive on campus by that time and will be directed to free campus parking and to shuttle buses that will take them from parking lots to the stadium. Services are available for guests with limited mobility and other disabilities. 

Daily News

AMHERST — The UMass Amherst College of Engineering (COE) has received a $10 million gift from Jerome and Linda Paros aimed at accelerating its cutting-edge work in atmospheric research and hazard mitigation by enabling a new center of excellence. The gift is the largest ever received by the college.

The gift will support the translation of ongoing and future research into improved hazardous weather predictions, alert systems, and policies that will save lives as the world continues to experience increases in the intensity and frequency of storms and other extreme weather events that stem from climate change. The $10 million gift will provide discretionary support for the new Paros Center for Atmospheric Research, funding for the Paros Fellows/Scholars Endowed Fund for graduate fellowships and undergraduate scholarships, and to establish the Paros Chair of Atmospheric Research and Hazard Mitigation.

“This transformative gift is a recognition of the tremendous talent and expertise we have at UMass Amherst,” College of Engineering Dean Sanjay Raman said. “Jerry and Linda Paros are enabling us to build on our established track record of accomplishment in ways that will have a profound impact on our nation and the global community. This gift will greatly enhance our capability to translate research in areas such as radar systems, the internet of things, data science and artificial intelligence, and unoccupied aerial vehicles into real-world hazard mitigation systems. It is an extraordinary investment, and we are deeply grateful.”

Building upon UMass Amherst’s leadership in the field through the Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) — an engineering research center housed at UMass and established through prior National Science Foundation funds — this new funding will enable UMass researchers to expand CASA’s original mission to explore new frontiers in atmospheric measurement, science, and technology.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy noted that UMass faculty have been at the forefront of this effort. “Through their innovation, our researchers are building a new level of safety for communities around the world,” he said. “Now, with this gift, we will expand our understanding of hazardous weather conditions and explore the next generation of life-saving strategies.”

Jerome Paros, a 1960 UMass Amherst alumnus, is a leader in the field of geophysical measurements. He holds more than 50 patents and is the founder, president, and chairman of Paroscientific Inc., Quartz Seismic Sensors Inc., and related companies based in Redmond, Wash. These companies use the quartz crystal resonator technology he developed to measure pressure, acceleration, temperature, weight, and other parameters. His work has improved the measurements of geophysical phenomena such as tsunamis, earthquakes, and severe weather, and enhanced knowledge about the complex earth, air, and ocean processes that produce climate change. In the mid-2000s, Jerome and Linda Paros endowed a fund in measurement science at UMass Amherst, with the goal of creating synergy in this field of study between the COE and the College of Natural Sciences.

Paros holds an undergraduate degree in physics from UMass Amherst and a graduate degree in physics from Columbia University. He is an International Society of Automation fellow and received the society’s Si Fluor Technology Award in 1980 and the Albert F. Sperry Founders Award in 2006. UMass honored him with a Distinguished Achievement Award in 2011.

Daily News

AMHERST — Alumnus Paul Manning and his wife, Diane, have committed $3 million through their family foundation to expand the Manning Innovation Program at UMass Amherst. The gift provides three years of support in advancing a robust and sustainable commercialization pipeline of applied and translational research projects from the university.

The Manning Innovation Program, based in the university’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), provides grants to advance applied research and development efforts in the sciences and engineering through the creation of startup companies and the licensing of intellectual property. Since its inception, 14 faculty members have received a Manning Innovation Award, including one research professor who has used these new funds to make strides toward new, life-saving liver-disease treatments. The program has also fostered a stronger culture of entrepreneurship in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) and greater collaboration among Isenberg School of Management advisors, science and technology researchers, and industry experts as they work to translate research into field-disrupting products.

“Early-stage innovation is a high-risk proposition and difficult to find funding for,” said Peter Reinhart, founding director of IALS. “The Manning Innovation Program is catalytic in that it creates a competitive mechanism for enabling the creation and development of promising startup companies focused on human health and well-being.”

The success of the program is illustrated by the diversity and caliber of the projects supported thus far. With these grants, faculty members are translating research into viable solutions addressing problems in areas such as cancer treatments, wastewater treatment, veterinary science, and reproductive healthcare.

The Manning Innovation Program was originally established in 2019 with $1 million in seed funding from the Mannings and was initially open only to CNS faculty.

“When we established the Manning Innovation Program almost three years ago, our goal was to fund brilliant minds as they tackled some of the world’s biggest problems,” Paul Manning said. “But the program’s success has surpassed our expectations, which is why we are investing in its expansion. We look forward to seeing many more innovative solutions that are sure to make a global impact.”

Daily News

AMHERST — Jianhan Chen, a UMass Amherst chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology professor, has received a five-year, $2 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to support research in his computational biophysics lab aimed at better understanding the role of intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) in biology and human disease.

The grant falls under the National Institute of General Medical Sciences MIRA program, which stands for Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award. It’s designed to give highly talented researchers more flexibility and stability to achieve important scientific advances in their labs.

“The MIRA award enables us to continue working on several central problems regarding the study of disordered proteins and dynamic interactions. The flexibility of this funding mechanism also allows us to follow new research directions as they emerge,” Chen said.

Until relatively recently, it was thought that proteins needed to adopt a well-defined structure to perform their biological function. But about two decades ago, he explained, IDPs were recognized as a new class of proteins that rely on a lack of stable structures to function. They make up about one-third of proteins that human bodies make, and two-thirds of cancer-associated proteins contain large, disordered segments or domains.

“This disorder seems to provide some unique functional advantage, and that’s why we have so much disorder in certain kinds of proteins,” Chen said. “These IDPs play really important roles in biology, and when something breaks down, they lead to very serious diseases, like cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.”

In his lab, Chen and colleagues focus on using computer simulations to model the molecular structure and dynamics of proteins. “IDPs are a mess; it’s difficult to determine the details of their properties because they are not amenable to traditional techniques that are designed to resolve stable protein structures,” he noted.

Because of their chaotic state, IDPs must be described using ensembles of structures, and computer simulations play a crucial role in the quantitative description of these disordered ensembles. “Our goal is really trying to combine simulation and experiments in collaboration with other labs to tease out what are the hidden features of these disordered proteins that are crucial to their function,” Chen said. “Then we can look at how these specific features might be perturbed by disease-related mutations or conditions.”

The next step would be to develop effective strategies for targeting disordered protein states. Toward that end, Chen’s lab will study the molecular basis of how the anti-cancer drug EGCG, an antioxidant found in green-tea extract, and its derivatives interact with the p53 gene, a tumor suppressor and the most important protein involved in cancer.

The key, he explained, is knowing how to design drug molecules to bind well enough to IDPs to achieve a therapeutic effect. Traditional, structure-based drug design strategies are faced with significant challenges, he noted, because IDPs do not contain stable, “druggable” pockets.

“We believe that targeting IDPs requires new strategies that explore the dynamic nature of IDP interactions,” he said. “If we can do this, it could really open up a whole class of drugs that were previously thought impossible.”

Daily News

AMHERST — A collaboration among UMass Amherst, UMass Dartmouth, UMass Lowell, and Salem State University to work together to decarbonize each campus has been recognized by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources with a Leading by Example (LBE) Award, which was presented to representatives from each campus at a ceremony earlier this month.

The LBE Awards recognize Commonwealth agencies, public colleges and universities and municipalities, and public-sector staff and volunteers for outstanding efforts related to clean energy and the environment that have resulted in measurable impacts.

The four-campus collaboration began during fiscal year 2020-21, when all four campuses decided to undertake a collaborative strategic planning process to decarbonize their campuses. Representatives from each campus held a series of meetings to allow for a free exchange of ideas, challenges, and lessons learned so that others might get a better result. The group kept various state agencies abreast of their discussions and how the work may affect formulating new policy. The group is also committed to sharing their information with similar institutions and agencies across the commonwealth.

To qualify for the award, the campuses had to meet various criteria, including sustainable practices, environmental benefits, cost savings, and education and outreach efforts.

The UMass Amherst Carbon Mitigation Taskforce is co-chaired by Ezra Small, sustainability manager for the UMass Amherst physical plant; and Dwayne Breger, environmental conservation and clean-energy extension, School of Earth and Sustainability.

“I can’t think of a more important task than to develop a plan that transitions our campus energy system to 100% renewables and zero carbon emissions within the next 10 to 15 years, and I am grateful to have co-chaired the Carbon Mitigation Taskforce for UMass Amherst along with Dwayne Breger,” Small said. “I’m happy to have traded notes and shared best practices with my colleagues at the other awarded institutions to help each other along the way, and I think we are all at the forefront of the most crucial issue of our time of addressing climate change.”

Daily News

AMHERST — In the largest-ever nutritional comparison of beef and alternative burgers available to U.S. consumers, a UMass Amherst analysis found that packaged beef burgers on average contain more calories, protein, fat, and cholesterol — and less sodium and fiber — than imitation and veggie burgers.

On average, veggie burgers contain the least fat, the most carbohydrates, and the most vitamin A and vitamin C, while imitation burgers contain the most sodium, vitamin D, iron, and potassium.

The findings, based on an analysis of 158 products — 89 veggie burgers, 41 conventional burgers, and 28 imitation burgers — were published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition.

Sensory scientist and senior author Alissa Nolden, assistant professor of Food Science at UMass Amherst, said surveys have shown that consumers are very concerned about the nutritional value of meat-free burgers on the market. “In one survey, taste was a huge reason why consumers were adopting changes, but nutrition was also a primary concern. And the top nutritional concern was protein.”

Nolden compiled and analyzed the data with a team of students and co-authors, including then-high-schooler Natalie Goeler-Slough, who had won a Massachusetts Life Sciences Center apprenticeship. Goeler-Slough, a native of Northampton, is now studying at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

Even as meat-eating increases globally, UMass Amherst food scientists are at the forefront of efforts to develop healthier, better-tasting, and sustainable plant-based foods that mimic fish, milk, cheese, and eggs, as well as meat.

Nolden, as a sensory scientist, focuses on the complexities of creating products to enhance food enjoyment. She noted the huge nutritional variability in the burger products on the market, which is important for consumers to be aware of when substituting beef for non-meat burgers.

“There are tons of options for consumers to try, and they might not be aware of the nutritional differences,” she said. “The goal of this study wasn’t to say one product category is healthier than the other. We wanted to look at the nutrients, which can sometimes become a lower priority during product development because there is a strong focus on making the product taste delicious.”

Consumers who read nutritional labels closely can make better choices about their needs. “If you’re looking to reduce your overall calories, then veggie burgers could be beneficial for some consumers,” Nolden said. “People who are looking to consume veggie burgers don’t need them to taste like meat; they can embrace the flavors and textures of those veggie ingredients. Unlike imitation meat, veggie burgers don’t have to have as much protein as conventional burgers, which was a finding of this study.”

It’s more challenging to develop imitation burgers that are trying to match conventional burgers in their appearance, texture, taste, and amount of protein. “You might think that, because an imitation burger is plant-based, it would be lower in things like saturated fat, when, in fact, in order to make it taste better, they incorporate things like coconut oil,” she noted.

The burger-development industry is the most important target of the study’s findings, which Nolden said can help food scientists identify areas that need nutritional improvement.

The paper concludes, that “these findings can help to inform future work related to determining important nutritional drivers for consumer acceptance and consumption, improving the nutritional content of the alternative product to match conventional products, and informing on the potential nutritional implications of consuming a diet consisting of sustainable or plant-based products.”

Daily News

AMHERST — Two visionary financial gifts have provided a strong foundation for UMass Amherst nurses and engineers to collaborate and lead transformational change in patient care, nursing practice, and medical-product development.

In May, alumni Michael and Theresa Hluchyj, longtime supporters of both the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing, committed $1 million in seed funding for a collaborative center. Building on their prior philanthropy devoted to graduate fellowships, their vision was to help foster partnerships between the two disciplines to identify issues and develop innovative solutions.

“Innovation is often accelerated at the intersection of different academic disciplines,” Michael Hluchyj said when announcing the gift. “The worldwide health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic make clear the critical need for innovative solutions in clinical settings where both nursing and engineering play vital roles.”

Inspired by the transformational possibilities enabled by the Hluchyjs’ generosity, in September, the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation gave a gift of $21.5 million to the College of Nursing, with a significant portion designated to support the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation.

“The innovative nursing engineering program currently being launched at the university was clearly the catalyst for capturing the interest of the foundation and is consistent with Elaine’s own spirit of innovation in learning,” said Martin Wasmer, Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation trustee.

In the few short months since the foundation gift was announced, the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation has established an initial laboratory footprint on the sixth floor of Life Sciences Laboratories, said center co-directors Frank Sup, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, and Karen Giuliano, Nursing and Institute for Applied Life Sciences.

The center also currently supports two graduate fellowships and is accepting pilot grant applications from interdisciplinary nursing and engineering teams. Its first postdoctoral fellow and undergraduate interns are expected to begin work next summer.

As a nurse-innovator with experience in both clinical care and product development during her many years in industry, Giuliano says involving nurses in the earliest stages of the development process is crucial.

“As the nation’s largest group of healthcare professionals, nurses use more products and are a part of more services than any other healthcare professional,” she said. “Traditionally, nurses have not been included as part of the healthcare innovation process — the Elaine Marieb Center intends to change that.”

Sup added that “the mission is to advance human health and wellness by training the next generation of nurses and engineers to be leaders at the frontiers of healthcare delivery. The nurse-engineer approach represents a powerful, integrated, real-time collaboration to identify healthcare problems, iterate potential solutions, evaluate outcomes, and balance tradeoffs to optimize system performance and patient care.”

The Elaine Marieb Center has already established itself as a Center of Excellence for improving the safety and usability of IV smart pumps. Intravenous (IV) infusion pump systems are among the most pervasive technologies in healthcare, used by about 90% of hospital patients, and have numerous well-known safety and usability issues that have a negative impact on patient care. This program of research is being led by Giuliano, with results from 16 publications representing both research and thought already disseminated.

More recently, the center research is focused on flow-rate accuracy during actual clinical use, with a series of studies being led by Jeannine Blake, MS, RN. Starting in July, Blake will be the first nursing doctoral student to enter an engineering postdoctoral fellowship, with mentorship from Juan Jiménez, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, who uses fluid flow engineering principles to better understand human systems.

Under Sup’s leadership, the center is also starting research on the use of robotics in healthcare. It teams doctoral students from both engineering and nursing, as well as an undergraduate nursing honors student, to identify challenges and develop robotic solutions to improve healthcare delivery for patients and providers.

A longer-term goal enabled by the Elaine Marieb Foundation gift will be the establishment of a lab at the university’s Mount Ida campus, which will provide a place for healthcare product and service testing with a diverse group of nurses and other frontline clinical end users.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Dining Services has been awarded $319,000 by the Henry P. Kendall Foundation for its “Strategies to Onboard Kelp into College Dining Programs” project.

Between 2013 and 2020, the Kendall Foundation’s gift of $1,395,000 supported UMass Dining’s commitment to local, healthy and sustainable sourcing. As an example, the Real Food Challenge initiative of 20% ‘real food’ by 2020 — a goal UMass Dining exceeded, achieving 29% — was supported by this funding. In addition, the grant supported infrastructure improvements, relationship building, promotional campaigns, local partnerships, innovative programs, and regional convening for key stakeholders.

Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises, is excited and proud of his team, noting that “we’ve been fortunate and grateful to have the Henry P. Kendall Foundation’s support for many years. Our team, even through the pandemic, never lost sight of our mission and continued to source from our local partners. It’s a great opportunity and an honor to be able to partner with Atlantic Sea Farms to continue to push the needle for more local, sustainable, and healthy items to add to our menu.”

This two-year project will introduce nutrient-dense, regeneratively grown New England kelp into the UMass Dining program as a choice for students and an opportunity for climate action. UMass Dining is partnering with New England-based Atlantic Sea Farms on the project as an innovative leader in the kelp industry on the East Coast. Atlantic Sea Farms offers not only kelp products, but expertise in the climate impact of growing and eating kelp, as well as the volume necessary for a large campus dining program. This partnership with Atlantic Sea Farms will drive normalization and inclusion of kelp on university menus.

Briana Warner, president and CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms, is excited about the partnership and what the future will hold. “We are really excited to work with the incredible dining team at UMass to introduce fresh, regenerative kelp to students. College students are increasingly aware of the choices that we make every day that affect their health and the environment, and we are creating an entirely new food system here in New England that is helping communities not only adapt to climate change, but also mitigate some of its effects. By partnering with UMass, we are hoping to help give students tasty, healthy ways to incorporate Maine-grown, fresh kelp into their everyday lives so we can all, together, create a more resilient and climate-friendly food system.”

Along with recipe and concept development, UMass Dining plans to engage students by integrating kelp into its Low Carbon Dining campaign and its Diet for a Cooler Planet campaign. This project aims to lay the path for replication so that kelp can be introduced to menus in college and university dining programs across the country.

Daily News

UMass is looking for a new head football coach. Again.

Yes, the Walt Bell era is over. Not quite three years in, and after a bad loss to the University of Rhode Island at home (and on homecoming weekend), Bell was fired. This was a bad loss not because of the score (35-22), but because URI plays one division down from UMass. And such a setback inevitably triggers discussion of why UMass is in that higher division to begin with.

Indeed, this loss, coupled with Bell’s firing, has brought out some new calls for UMass to end its experiment with big-time football and go back to where it was — playing schools like URI every weekend, and even beating some of them. Often, quite a few of them.

Those calls make sense. UMass has been trying to succeed in the Football Championship Subdivision for almost a decade now. It is not only not making any progress, it is going backward. The team has simply not been competitive on the field, as the scores would indicate — a 51-7 loss to Pittsburgh, 53-3 to Coastal Carolina, 59-3 to Florida State, and 62-17 to Liberty — and in recent years, the program has become nothing short of an embarrassment to the school.

If one were an optimist, one would point to the success of the school’s hockey team, which returned to Division 1 in 1993 and last spring won a national championship, as reason to stay with this experiment and press on. But this situation calls for realism, not optimism. And realistically speaking, UMass is simply not positioned to succeed with this experiment. It’s not the coach, and it’s not the stadium, or the lack of one befitting a school at the top tier. It comes down to the fact that it’s very, very difficult to succeed at this level. It takes money, facilities, a passionate fan base, and a foundation on which to build.

UMass doesn’t have any of those things, really, and neither does another school that should give up the ghost when it comes to the Football Championship Subdivision: UConn, the only school UMass has beaten this year.

Coach Walt Bell is gone, but the problem remains. UMass is in over its head. And it’s time to come back to shore.

Daily News

AMHERST — In an effort to defend science and combat misinformation, Richard Peltier, associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, has started writing a free, weekly newsletter called Up in the Air on Substack, a digital subscription newsletter platform.

Peltier, an expert in air pollution, aims to offer “objective analysis of science — mostly air quality and health, but occasionally dipping my toes in other directions where I might have something to say.”

He conducted urgent research at the start of the pandemic to test whether healthcare workers could safely reuse face masks designed for one-time use. In general, using innovative approaches and novel designs and applications of instrumentation, he focuses his research on advancing knowledge of particulate matter and its impact on human health.

Peltier’s expertise is often sought by national media outlets and such agencies as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization, for which he serves on the Global Air Pollution and Health Technical Advisory Group.

He invites “anyone who wants to learn — policymakers, journalists, students, or anyone who wonders about their environment” — to check out Up in the Air. “If you are curious about science, this newsletter is for you.”

Subscribe for free at 20000breaths.substack.com/about.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst announced that, as part of Robert and Donna Manning’s recent historic $50 million gift to the University of Massachusetts, $18 million will endow the newly named Robert and Donna Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences.

At the same time, Gov. Charlie Baker announced a $75 million commitment that will enhance and expand the college’s facilities. The state grant, which will be allocated over the course of multiple future capital plans, is backed by a $30 million commitment from the campus for the expanded physical footprint of the college.

These combined investments will allow the college to continue to grow and fuel new discoveries in computing research. It will attract top faculty, increase access to its nationally ranked program, and offer scholarships, bridge programs, and peer mentoring to foster a diverse and ethical future workforce. Since 2018, the college has committed to doubling the amount of undergraduate and graduate students, and the gift and grant will help accelerate that goal.

The Robert and Donna Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences ranks among the top 20 computer science programs in North America and boasts the 11th-ranked artificial intelligence (AI) program. United around a revolutionary vision for computing research and education, known as Computing for the Common Good, the college is driving scientific discovery in key areas such as healthcare, sustainability, cybersecurity, quantum information systems, and human-centered technology. Its research is focused on some of the most demanding challenges of today, including ensuring that AI is equitable, safe, and applied in positive ways, creating technologies that protect personal privacy and safeguard children from online predators.

“I have been very focused on the ethical application of new technologies, which both enhance and complicate our lives,” said Robert Manning, who is chairman of MFS Investment Management and the longtime chair of the UMass board of trustees. “The future of computing will cure diseases and solve some of the world’s greatest challenges, but will also be incredibly disruptive, particularly to the workforce. The College of Information and Computer Sciences at UMass Amherst, with its groundbreaking research and top-notch faculty, is well-positioned to be a leader in building a framework for Computing for the Common Good. Donna and I are proud to invest in this incredibly important initiative.”

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy added that “it’s an exciting time for UMass Amherst, and we’re incredibly grateful for this gift from the Manning family and funding commitment from the Commonwealth. We are committed to contributing to an inclusive and innovative society, and we know these gifts will help our institution harness technology’s power to drive this change.”

Daily News

AMHERST — Two employees who have been coordinating UMass Amherst’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic since March were recently honored by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy for their efforts.

Ann Becker, campus Public Health director and a clinical associate professor in the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, and Jeffrey Hescock, executive director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management, were awarded the Chancellor’s Medal at a recent tribute dinner. Hescock and Becker are the co-directors of the university’s Public Health Promotion Center (PHPC), which has been the home to the UMass COVID testing and vaccination programs. The Chancellor’s Medal is the highest honor the campus bestows on individuals, and is given for exemplary and extraordinary service to the university.

“When the global pandemic abruptly descended upon us in March 2020, beginning one of the most challenging times in our almost 160-year history, the university looked to Ann Becker and Jeff Hescock,” Subbaswamy said. “Ann and Jeff worked together before on urgent issues of campus public health and safety, including their successful effort to stem a campus meningitis outbreak. When COVID-19 hit, they once again combined their respective expertise in public health and emergency management to quickly develop a response strategy for the campus.”

Together, Becker and Hescock established the PHPC, which became one of the largest asymptomatic COVID testing resources in the commonwealth. Applying their knowledge to each new challenge in the pandemic, they continually evolved the PHPC from a testing site to a vaccination clinic as well. And when the Delta variant appeared on campus this fall, they redoubled their efforts to keep the campus safe, Subbaswamy noted.

“For more than 18 months, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, Ann and Jeff have shouldered an unrelenting amount of responsibility,” he said in his tribute, noting that “they have done so with grace, humility, and humor.”

Business of Aging

An Impactful Gift


Allison Vorderstrasse says the $21.5 million gift from the Marieb Foundation

Allison Vorderstrasse says the $21.5 million gift from the Marieb Foundation will allow the nursing program to move forward with its mission more rapidly.



Allison Vorderstrasse acknowledged that this is a powerful word with specific meaning; it is not, or should not be, used arbitrarily.

But when it comes to the $21.5 million donation from the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Foundation to UMass Amherst, and, more specifically, its College of Nursing — the largest single gift ever given to the school — that descriptive adjective certainly fits.

“We know that, in order to transform care, we must first transform education,” said Vorderstrasse, dean of the school of Nursing, noting that the school will now bear the name of the woman who graduated with a master’s degree from the program in 1985 and passed away in 2018. “As a center of discovery — and true to our namesake — the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing will inspire individual and collective growth as we help prepare tomorrow’s leaders and advance the field.

“This gift will support multiple areas of our mission that align so well with Elaine Marieb’s legacy,” she went on. “It will certainly allow us to move forward in those areas in a more rapid fashion than we could without it.

These areas include the university’s Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation, said Vorderstrasse, adding that the gift will also impact how the school delivers its curriculum and programs, enable enhanced use of simulation, and, perhaps most importantly, put more nurses in the pipeline at a time when they are desperately needed.

“There is a demand for nurses, obviously, and for us to be able to provide a program that can facilitate nurses coming into the profession, especially here in Western Massachusetts, where we’ve seen an even more dramatic nursing shortage, is an important part of our mission.”

When asked about the gift, how it came about, and what it means for the university and its Nursing program, Vorderstrasse started by talking about the message it sends and the trust it implies, something that’s very important to her.

Elaine Marieb

“What was really exciting to me was the enthusiasm at the foundation about honoring Elaine Marieb’s legacy in this way, and the faith and the trust that they had in us as an institution and a college to really make this gift transformative,” she explained. “They truly felt that the work we were doing was innovative, exciting, and, in many ways, unique, and this meant it was a good fit with her legacy and that they would see the impact of that gift. It was very exciting to hear the degree of enthusiasm that they had for what we do.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Vorderstrasse about the many ways her program, and the university, intend to honor that trust and put this gift to work in ways that have far-reaching implications.


Paying It Forward

The gift from the Marieb Foundation, announced on Sept. 16, is only the latest significant donation to come to UMass in recent months.

It comes after a $50 million gift from Rob and Donna Manning aimed at increasing access and opportunity across the five-campus university system (see story on page 28), and a $170 million gift from the Morningside Foundation to UMass Medical School, further positioning the university as a leading public education institution in the nation.

Together, these donations provide growing evidence that the system and its individual programs are growing in stature and reputation and are “well-positioned to advance education, research, and access for students at scale in the Commonwealth,” said UMass President Marty Meehan in a prepared statement.

Vorderstrasse echoed those sentiments and noted that this latest gift — again, the largest ever given to UMass Amherst — creates more momentum, enthusiasm, and exposure for the school at a pivotal time in its history.

“It’s such an exciting time for the whole university to see this come in,” she said, “because it says that the foundation and others who have been good friends of the university for a long time really do feel that this is a pivotal time to support UMass.”

Meanwhile, the $21.5 million gift is only the latest of many from Marieb and the foundation she created to area schools. Previously, she had made gifts of more than $2 million for campus-wide scholarships at UMass Amherst. She and the foundation have also made several gifts to Holyoke Community College and its Center for Life Sciences, which now bears her name.

Marieb, a Northampton native, died in 2018 at age 82, and ranks among the nation’s most influential nursing educators. As noted, she earned a master’s degree from UMass Amherst’s College of Nursing in 1985 with a specialization in gerontology. Prior to that, she received a Ph.D. in zoology from the College of Natural Sciences at UMass in 1969. She also held degrees from Holyoke Community College, Fitchburg State College, Mount Holyoke College, and Westfield State College. Her distinguished career included time teaching at Springfield College and Holyoke Community College.

Ultimately, Marieb became the author or co-author of more than 10 bestselling textbooks and laboratory manuals on anatomy and physiology after she started writing textbooks to address complaints from her nursing students that the materials then available were ineffective. Her work has been read by more than 3 million nurses and healthcare professionals practicing today.

Marieb’s impact on nursing education will only become more profound with the foundation’s latest gift, said Vorderstrasse, adding that it comes after six to nine months of collaborative discussions with foundation leaders about nursing education, the UMass program, and its mission moving forward.

In many ways, the nursing engineering program, launched last January, became a catalyst for the gift. Seed-funded by other donors and friends of the School of Nursing, the initiative was conceptualized to support graduate students in their research training and experience at UMass across various disciplines, Vorderstrasse explained.

“It functions at that nexus of healthcare, engineering, and healthcare professionals, especially nurses, and the development and application of new technologies or even existing technologies — how we apply those in an ethical manner and develop them in such a way that takes into consideration patients and the people who will use them, as well as nurses who are on the front lines using these technologies.

“We hope that it will evolve into a center that collaborates not only on our campus, but with industry partners, because Massachusetts is a hub for healthcare technology,” she went on, adding that the grant from the Marieb Foundation will fund research at the center, especially new initiatives and pilot programs that need seed funding to get off the ground.

Meanwhile, the gift will be used to help expand the nursing programs and put more nurses into the pipeline, she said. Plans call for student scholarships to be expanded to improve access for underrepresented students, and to link scholarships to academic and professional success.

Elaborating, Vorderstrasse said the traditional bachelor’s-degree program graduates roughly 65 students each year and sees more than 2,000 applicants for those seats.

Expansion of that program will be incremental, perhaps eight to 10 students at a time, she told BusinessWest, adding that a program like this cannot, and should not, double in size overnight. But over a period of years, growth can be achieved that will make a significant impact in the number of nurses entering the field.

Growth is also projected for what’s known as the second-degree nursing program, for individuals who have a degree in another field and want to venture into nursing, said Vorderstrasse, adding that this program currently graduates roughly 90 students each year.


Bottom Line

Getting back to the word transformative, it is saved for those occasions when someone or something can bring about profound, meaningful change.

The someone in this case, Marieb, has already done so much to change the landscape when it comes to nursing education. The something is a gift, the latest of many, that will accelerate the pace of growth and progress for the Nursing program and enable more people to earn degrees there.

As Vorderstrasse said, that adjective ‘transformative’ certainly fits in this case.


George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Daily News

AMHERST — Arwen Staros Duffy, currently assistant vice president for Development at the University of Southern California (USC), has been named vice chancellor for advancement at UMass Amherst. Duffy will begin her new position Nov. 15.

Duffy has served in her leadership role at USC since 2014. She oversaw record fundraising efforts for the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Gould School of Law, Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry, Price School of Public Policy, Rossier School of Education, and Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work as part of the Campaign for USC. Previously, she served as senior vice president for Development and External Affairs at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif.

A Yale University graduate in art, she was also vice president of Advancement for the California Institute of the Arts, where she earned her MFA in 1994. Duffy began her career in higher-education advancement at UCLA, where she secured support for the School of the Arts and Architecture and College of Letters and Science.

“Arwen Duffy possesses an extraordinary range of experience and expertise that will advance the mission of UMass Amherst as we seek new heights of philanthropic support for our revolutionary aspirations,” UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “Her most recent success at USC, a distinguished national university, as well as her deep knowledge of the arts, demonstrates the skill, creativity, and leadership that she will bring to UMass.”

Added Duffy, “public universities play a special role in advancing knowledge for the public good, and I embrace UMass Amherst’s commitment to create a better, more just world. It is a privilege to join the commonwealth’s flagship university at a time when philanthropy is playing a vital role in fueling its mission. This month’s extraordinary gifts to the Marieb College of Nursing will make a lasting impact in the lives of UMass students and their future patients, and I am grateful to interim Vice Chancellor Theresa Curry and the Advancement team for their dedication to engaging alumni, parents, friends, and neighbors in advocacy and support.”

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst announced it has received a gift of $21.5 million from the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation. The university’s College of Nursing will become the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, named for the late UMass Amherst nursing alumna and bestselling textbook author Elaine Nicpon Marieb.

The gift will advance the university’s innovative nursing engineering center and also provide support for student scholarships, an endowed professorship, and mentorship and research initiatives designed to further access, equity, and excellence in nursing education.

This is the largest cash gift in UMass Amherst history and comes after Marieb had previously made gifts of more than $2 million for campus-wide scholarships, totaling more than $23.9 million given to the university by her and in her name.

“We are deeply grateful for this extraordinary gift from the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation,” UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “This gift is an endorsement of the vital role that our College of Nursing plays in preparing nurses for leadership in healthcare. It comes at a time when our society is confronted with unprecedented challenges — challenges that we strive to overcome through innovation, learning, and discovery inspired by one of our most distinguished and beloved graduates, Dr. Marieb herself.”

Martin Wasmer, Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation trustee, added that the foundation “is excited to expand the legacy of Elaine Marieb by partnering with UMass Amherst in naming the Marieb College of Nursing. The innovative nursing engineering program currently being launched at the university was clearly the catalyst for capturing the interest of the foundation and is consistent with Elaine’s own spirit of innovation in learning.”

According to College of Nursing Dean Allison Vorderstrasse, “the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing at UMass Amherst will shape the future of nursing in bold new ways. We know that, in order to transform care, we must first transform education. As a center of discovery — and true to our namesake — the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing will inspire individual and collective growth as we help prepare tomorrow’s leaders and advance the field. The foundation’s gift is evidence of the stature of our program and the impact we have on our students and the community.”

Daily News

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.”

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst’s Jim Kurose, distinguished university professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences and associate chancellor for Partnerships and Innovation, is part of the research team recently awarded a $20 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to build the internet of the future.

The grant, which will support the AI Institute for Future Edge Networks and Distributed Intelligence (AI-EDGE), is led by Ness Shroff, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science and Engineering at Ohio State University. The funding supports a core team of 30 scientists from 11 collaborating educational institutions, three U.S. Department of Defense labs, and four global software companies.

AI-EDGE is one of 11 new, NSF-funded Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes, and its ultimate goal is to “design future generations of wireless edge networks that are highly efficient, reliable, robust, and secure, and facilitate solving long-standing distributed AI challenges.”

An edge network, Kurose explained, is simply the network that each one of us connects to. “The internet is a network of networks,” he said, “and every time you surf the internet using a wireless connection, you start at the edge. That’s where you connect.” There are hundreds of millions of such edge networks, and with providers beginning to offer 5G access, with 6G in the not-too-distant future, they’re only becoming more numerous.

The challenge is how to best control and manage these networks to provide high-performance, secure, and robust service. This is where AI (artificial intelligence) comes in.

Just as much of the internet has moved to the edge, so, too, is AI moving outward from a centralized, core location. Not only is the team using AI for networking to solve the problems of speed, reliability, and security, but it’s also helping to network AI and get the technology out to the edges, where it can do the most good.

“We’re looking for anywhere from 10 times to 100 times better performance, along with better robustness and security, than the best these networks can offer today,” Kurose said.

Faster speeds and more information mean more data that can be used to make better decisions — and this is where Kurose comes in. “My research will focus on how you monitor and make sense of all the incoming data, in real time, to ensure that performance and security remain robust.”

Kurose will also co-lead the team’s effort in broadening participation. He’ll be working with middle- and high-school students, with a focus on under-represented groups, to bring them into the world of AI, as well as running a Women in AI program that will be open to girls and women from kindergarten through graduate school.

Daily News

NEWTON — As the Greater Boston business community prepares for a post-COVID-19 environment, the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst is opening co-working space for startup or small companies interested in co-locating with the state’s flagship public research university.

The Innovation and Collaboration Space on UMass Amherst’s Newton campus includes co-working office and lab space, with an additional makerspace planned in the near future.

The co-working office space features 20 individual workspaces, available for rent on a weekly or monthly basis, with access to shared conference rooms. In addition to the opportunity to network with other businesses, the co-working space, located in the Campus Center, allows for interaction with UMass Amherst faculty, staff, and students. The Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network and CoachUp will be among the first tenants in the co-working space.

The co-working laboratory space offers 26 individual benches available for rent on a monthly basis. Companies utilizing the lab space have access to the core facilities on the university’s main campus in Amherst. It is aligned with the lab space-rental program of the UMass Amherst Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS). Newton-headquartered nanotechnology company Xheme Inc. will be the first tenant in the lab space.

“The co-working lab space allows companies to access core research facilities at UMass Amherst,” said Kathryn Ellis, director of the UMass Amherst Innovation Institute. “Companies that choose to co-locate with us can also build long-lasting and valuable relationships with UMass Amherst faculty and students.”

Consistent with the campus mission and strategic plan, Innovation and Collaboration Space members are expected to provide professional-development opportunities for UMass Amherst students, including informational interviews, job shadowing, and networking opportunities.

“As a center for student experiential learning and professional development, we’re building a campus environment where UMass Amherst students conducting internships or co-ops in Greater Boston also get exposure to different industries while living here,” said Mount Ida Campus Managing Director Jeff Cournoyer. “The intent is for these companies to grow and ‘graduate’ to larger spaces in the region, but while they’re here they’ll be accessible to students — and potential future employees ­­— who want to learn about their business.”

The Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst is located at 100 Carlson Ave. in Newton, within the N-Squared Innovation District, five minutes from I-95 and eight miles from downtown Boston. The campus offers Innovation and Collaboration Space tenants free parking, award-winning UMass Dining, outdoor recreational facilities, and on-site conference and event space.

A 6,000-square-foot collaborative maker space is also in development on the Mount Ida Campus.