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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.

 

Transformative.

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.

Education

Maintaining Momentum

Anne Massey

Anne Massey says that early on, she told faculty and staff at Isenberg that the pandemic was not to be looked at as “a short-term problem we’re just trying to solve.” Instead, it has been a learning experience on many levels.

 

When Anne Massey arrived at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst in the late summer of 2019, she came with a lengthy set of plans, goals, and ambitions for an institution that was steadily moving up in the ranks of the nation’s business schools and determined to further enhance its reputation.

The overarching plan was to decide what was being done right, what could be done better, and how the school could continue and even accelerate its ascendency with those rankings.

Massey was already making considerable headway with such initiatives when COVID-19 arrived just eight months later and turned normalcy on its ear. But she was determined not to let the pandemic create a loss of focus or momentum.

And almost 16 months after students went home for a spring break from which they would not return, she can say with a great deal of confidence that she has succeeded with that broad mission.

In fact, the pandemic may in some ways have even created more momentum for Isenberg, which is now the top-ranked public business school in the Northeast.

Indeed, those at the school have used the past 15 months as a valuable learning experience, said Massey, who was most recently the chair of the Wisconsin School of Business. She stressed repeatedly that this was a time, as challenging as it was, not to simply get through or survive, and as a homework assignment for her staff, she strongly recommended Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle Is the Way — The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph.

“I said early on that we’re not going to be looking at this pandemic, and all the things that it wrought for us in terms of remote teaching, remote learning, and remote work, as a short-term problem that we’re just trying to solve,” she explained. “I said that we’re going to learn things, and we’re going to carry them over to when we came back and be better than we were in March of 2020.”

She believes the school will be better because of how it has learned to use technology to do things differently and in some ways better than before, but also because of the many experiences working together as a team to address challenges and find solutions.

“I said early on that we’re not going to be looking at this pandemic, and all the things that it wrought for us in terms of remote teaching, remote learning, and remote work, as a short-term problem that we’re just trying to solve. I said that we’re going to learn things, and we’re going to carry them over to when we came back and be better than we were in March of 2020.”

Moving forward, Massey said those at Isenberg, whether they’ve read Holiday’s book or not, are responding well to the notion of looking at obstacles as opportunities and not letting challenges, even global pandemics, stand in the way of achieving goals and improving continuously.

As she noted, this mindset will serve the institution well in the future as it and all of its many competitors prepare to return to normal, but not a world exactly like the one that existed 16 months ago.

“It was also obvious to me in March and April of 2020 that everyone was going to be forced to be remote, at least for some period of time,” she said. “We’d been in the online space for 20 years, so we were ahead of the game. But now, suddenly, everyone was going to be playing the game. They weren’t all going to be good at it; some of them still aren’t good at it, but think they are.

“But now, there are going to be more people joining this competitive space,” she went on. “And some of them have more resources than we do. So we needed to say, ‘we’re just going to keep plowing forward. We need to be better than they were because that’s the only way we’re going to maintain our competitive position.”

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest talked at length with Massey about her challenging and, in many ways, intriguing first two years at the helm at Isenberg, and especially about how the school will take the experiences from the pandemic and use them to make the school, as she said, better than it was before anyone heard of COVID-19.

 

Getting Down to Business

The lawn signs were first introduced a year or so ago.

They say ‘Destination Isenberg,’ and were intended to be placed on the front lawns of the homes of students bound for the school — enrollment in which is increasingly becoming a point of pride.

While those first signs to be issued were technically accurate, many of the students didn’t have the Amherst campus as their actual destination because of COVID, said Massey, adding that that the latest signs — they’re at the printer now and will be distributed soon — speak the full truth: students will be back in the fall.

There will be a party in August to welcome them to campus, and planning continues for an orientation that will feature programs and events not only for freshmen but also the sophomores who couldn’t enjoy such an experience last fall because of the pandemic. As part of those celebrations, there will be recognition of the national-champion UMass hockey team, which included 15 players who are enrolled at Isenberg.

The students will be coming back to the ultra-modern, $62 million Isenberg Innovation Hub, which opened in January 2019 and sat mostly quiet for the bulk of the pandemic. They’ll be coming back to a school now ranked 53rd in the country by U.S. News & World Report when it comes to undergraduate programs (34th among public schools).

The ‘Destination Isenberg’ signs soon to grace lawns

The ‘Destination Isenberg’ signs soon to grace lawns across the country will have real meaning this year, with the school back to fully in-person learning this fall.

They’ll be returning to a school where enrollment continues to grow even as competition increases and high-school graduating classes shrink. “We have the largest incoming class ever,” Massey said. “We have more than we probably should have, but we’ll deal with it.”

But they won’t be returning to the same school. Indeed, as she noted, they’ll be coming back to, or joining, an Isenberg that used the pandemic as a learning laboratory of sorts, one that will stand the school in good stead as it continues its quest for continuous improvement and movement up the rankings in an even more competitive environment.

She said this work actually started before the pandemic, soon after she arrived on the campus. She started with a survey that went out to faculty and staff that included three key questions:

• ‘What unexploited opportunities do you see for Isenberg?’

• ‘What’s standing in our way of those opportunities?’ and

• ‘Given what you know, what do you think Anne Masse should focus on for the next year?’

She received a 95% response rate to that survey, and the answers provided considerable fodder for discussion at what would eventually be more than 30 meetings with various groups within the school, including faculty and staff.

She then developed five key priorities for maintaining and enhancing the school’s reputation for excellence and went “on the road,” as she put it, visiting alumni in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and other cities. These visits continued until the pandemic arrived, she said, adding that, while the road trips have to come to a halt, the work of developing these priorities, identifying areas in which the school needs to invest, and shaping all this into a strategic plan have continued unabated.

Getting back to the pandemic, Massey actually had considerable experience on her résumé in the realm of research regarding virtual teams and how they function. And that work came in handy during the pandemic, especially as it related to communication, coordination, and relationships among individuals in those teams.

“We have the tools and technology that support communication and that support collaboration and coordination of our work,” she explained. “But the relationship building and maintaining relationships is something that people often don’t pay attention to. They get wrapped up in the work, and not the nature of the team and the relationships amongst the team members.”

Flashing back to March 2020, when students, faculty, and staff were sent home for spring break, Massey said she knew they wouldn’t be coming back anytime soon and that all operations, from teaching to recruiting to development, would have to go remote.

“I knew that we had the tools, but what we really needed to focus on were the connections,” she told BusinessWest, adding that she soon launched what became knowns as the Dean’s Briefing, which, as that name suggests, was a briefing sent out to faculty and staff almost weekly.

“Sometimes it was a pat on the back, sometimes it was ‘I know how hard it is,’ sometimes it was personal, sometimes it was about what was going on at the university and what we thought the summer was going to look like and what the fall would look like; it was always about trying to keep people in the loop,” she said, adding that she encouraged the associate deans, the department, and others to do the same with their own group. “They needed to maintain communication that was positive and supportive.”

 

Driving Forces

At the same time, Massey emphasized the importance of the faculty engaging with students and helping them through a difficult and unprecedented time.

Because not all faculty members had taught online, or certainly to that extent, the school named five Isenberg teaching fellows, all of them experts in remote learning, who are assigned to one or a few departments and a cohort of faculty.

“They took the ball and ran with it,” Massey said, adding quickly that she wasn’t sure at first how this initiative would go over. “They had workshops, they had brown-bag lunches, they used Zoom, they coached people, they surfaced new best practices, they shared ideas … they even wrote a few research papers that have been published. They were phenomenal.”

Lessons learned from the pandemic and these teaching fellows will carry over into ‘normal’ times, she said, adding that she’s expecting to get back on the road in the fall and continue to push the five priorities for the school as it works to sustain and enhance its overall reputation for excellence, a key driver of those all-important rankings.

“They’re all about reputation in various ways,” Massey said of the rankings, of which there are many across several categories, from undergraduate offerings to part-time MBA programs. “The question that I asked over a year ago, and that I always ask, is ‘how might we sustain or advance our reputation for excellence in all we do? And excellence in terms of students and our quality of students, the quality of our faculty and their research, the placement of our students, what the recruiters think, and companies once students are working for them and they’re out a few years. Do they deliver the goods? All of that.”

Listing those priorities, which all intersect, she started with attracting exceptional students, which means more than those with the top GPAs. It also means achieving diversity and attracting students with a commitment to their communities, she said, adding that another priority is sustaining faculty excellence, especially at a time when business schools, and higher education in general, is facing what Massey described as a “looming retirement problem.”

“It’s becoming more and more difficult to attract and retain faculty; we’re not producing Ph.D.s at the rate that we probably need to,” she explained. “So I’m always thinking about how we can make this a good place for prospective faculty, and then, when we get them, how do we keep them? And how do we support them in their research efforts, and how do we support them becoming better teachers?”

Another priority is what Massey called “enabling career success,” which involves both current students and alumni, many of whom were impacted by the pandemic and the toll it took on employers in many sectors. To address this matter, she created an Office of Career Success and integrated the Chase Career Center with the school’s Business and Professional Communications faculty in an effort to expand services to alumni as well as current students.

Still other priorities include “creating global citizens and inclusive leaders” and “inspiring innovation in teaching and learning,” Massey said, adding that she wants Isenberg to be a significant player in business education, especially when it comes to advances in teaching and the use of emerging technology.

“How do we use 3D? What about augmented reality?” she asked, adding that these are just some of the questions she and others at the school are addressing. “One of our initiatives when it comes to inspiring innovation in teaching and learning is the creation of a ‘technology sandbox,’ a dedicated space where new and emerging technologies will be available for our faculty to play with and our staff to play with — because you can’t provide support for something if you don’t know how to use it — and for our students to play with.”

 

Positive Signs

Getting back to those lawn signs, Massey, who has one in her yard (her son attends the school), said they’re great exposure for Isenberg, especially outside of Massachusetts, where the name is somewhat less-known, but becoming better-known.

“It’s good to have them all over the country, and the students love them,” she said, adding that these are literal signs of growth and progress at Isenberg, but there are many others, from the record class for the fall of 2020 to its longstanding home at to the top of the rankings of public business schools in the Northeast — it’s been there since 2015.

There were signs of progress during the pandemic as well, she said, even if they’re harder to see. The school was determined not to lose momentum during that challenging time and to turn that obstacle into an opportunity.

Time will tell just how successful that mission was, but Massey already considers it a triumph for all those at the school.

 

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

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy has been elected as a new member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. He joins a distinguished roster of esteemed figures in the arts and sciences, business, philanthropy, and public affairs honored by the prestigious academy for their leadership and dedication to excellence.

The academy was established in 1780 by the country’s founders, including John Adams and John Hancock, to provide guidance to a young nation that would face challenges and need expertise and excellence to emerge stronger. “We are honoring the excellence of these individuals, celebrating what they have achieved so far, and imagining what they will continue to accomplish,” said David Oxtoby, president of the academy. “The past year has been replete with evidence of how things can get worse; this is an opportunity to illuminate the importance of art, ideas, knowledge, and leadership that can make a better world.”

According to UMass President Marty Meehan, “it is no surprise to any of us at UMass that the American Academy of Arts & Sciences recognizes what we see every day — Chancellor Subbaswamy is a transformational academic leader, and he continues to bring UMass Amherst to great heights.”

Added Subbaswamy, “I am grateful to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences for this honor, particularly in light of those who have come before me, and with me. It inspires me to work harder to advance further the ideals and mission of the academy.”

Subbaswamy was elected into the academy as one of seven leaders in the educational and academic leadership section. Serving as chancellor since 2012, he is the 30th leader of UMass Amherst and has emerged as a popular and well-regarded chancellor for his pursuit of academic excellence, promotion of research and outreach, and initiatives aimed at addressing campus climate, diversity, and culture. He has also made sustainability a campus priority and is focused on strengthening community relationships, supporting area communities, and increasing access to the university’s academic and research resources.

He has overseen the opening of new cutting-edge academic, research, and athletic facilities, including the Commonwealth Honors College, the Integrative Learning Center, the Life Sciences Laboratories, a new physical sciences building, the Isenberg School of Management’s Business Innovation Hub, the Football Performance Center, and a newly renovated Student Union building. Additionally, he has presided over UMass Amherst’s dramatic rise in the U.S. News and World Report Guide to Colleges rankings, where the university currently sits at 26th among the nation’s top public research universities.

Daily News

By George O’Brien

For the past several years now, UMass Amherst athletics have been, well … under fire.

And the discussion has centered around two sports — the two sports most people focus on when they think of big-time college athletics, football and basketball.

The basketball team in Amherst has been mostly irrelevant since the Marcus Camby-led team that went to the national championship game a quarter-century ago. The football team … well, it’s been worse than irrelevant, if that’s possible. It’s been relevant for all the wrong reasons — atrocious records, historically poor defense, and endless talk that the school made a terribly wrong decision when it decided to move up to the big time and start playing with Alabama, Clemson, and Notre Dame in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

With the UMass hockey team’s decisive 5-0 win over St. Cloud State in Pittsburgh on Saturday night, the school has a national championship to boast, and something else to talk about. Finally. This was a huge win for the team and the school and one that could redirect the discussion about athletics at the state’s flagship university.

How, exactly, we’re not sure. It could change ideas about just what this university is, a football or basketball school (the debate has raged for years). Maybe, just maybe, it’s a hockey school. It may change the debate about just how important those two ‘big’ sports are, really, when it comes to a school’s identity, or even its finances.

But we hope it changes the discussion when it comes to just what can happen if people are determined, patient, and the pieces finally fall into place. Remember, UMass dropped hockey — not once, but twice — over the past 80 years. When this writer was covering the team for the UMass Collegian in the late ’70s, it didn’t even have its own arena; home games were played at Amherst College’s Orr Rink.

When a rink was finally built and hockey was restored in 1993, a slow rebuilding process commenced that brought the team to some success, including a trip to the nationals in 2007. The final piece to the puzzle was the hiring of former St. Lawrence coach Greg Carvel, who has recruited players that have bought UMass to two straight national championships. They knocked on the door in 2019, and on Saturday night, they stormed through it.

This team looks like it could be a powerhouse for a long, long time, although, certainly, nothing can be taken for granted.

There might be those thinking, ‘why can’t this be the football or basketball team?’ But that’s not the right way to think. First, it doesn’t have to one of those two sports; a school can build an identity in other ways when it comes to athletics. Second, if this team has done anything, it’s shown that it can happen with those sports. It might take time — it might take decades — but it can happen.

So this was a hard-earned victory to be celebrated — on many, many levels.

George O’Brien is editor and associate publisher of BusinessWest.

Daily News

AMHERST — The UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences will present an all-virtual symposium on “Computing for the Common Good” on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 16-17, from noon to 5 p.m.

The symposium will feature keynotes, research talks, and interactive discussions on applying computing and data science to society’s big problems. Attendees will learn about the ways UMass researchers are applying artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computing at scale to serve the common good.

Click here to register via Zoom.

Daily News

AMHERST — The Amherst Board of Health issued an emergency order that will continue the mandatory early-closing order and continue certain sector capacity limits, both of which were set to expire on Feb. 8.

The order to extend the 25% capacity ceiling and the 9:30 p.m. closing time for many industries indefinitely was adopted on Sunday, just as UMass Amherst officials raised the university’s risk level and shuttered in-person activities in the face of more than 400 active cases of COVID-19.

The town has been in close communication with officials from the towns of Hadley and Sunderland, which are considering similar measures.

“This is not the direction that we, as a town, nor our businesses, want to go, but it is imperative that the town take decisive action immediately to address this increase in cases,” Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said.

Added Public Health Director Emma Dragon, “it is in the interest of the health of our entire community that we continue the restrictions that are currently in place. Never has it been more important to follow those key public-health protocols of wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distance.”

Daily News

AMHERST — In partnership with Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, UMass Amherst announced it will expand its role in distributing COVID-19 vaccines, providing vaccinations for the foreseeable future in concert with the criteria and timeline of the state’s phased vaccination plan.

Currently, the Commonwealth is in phase one of vaccine distribution, with first responders, COVID-facing healthcare workers (including college health staff), and congregate care and shelter staff eligible to receive the vaccine at the UMass facility. All eligible individuals must schedule an appointment in advance for the vaccine at www.umass.edu/coronavirus/vaccine.

“We are proud to devote our time, energy, and expertise to expanding the Commonwealth’s vaccination program,” UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “This effort reflects our deep commitment to public service. Our clinic is staffed through the invaluable assistance of the UMass College of Nursing, with our nursing students providing critical support while also gaining clinical experience to administer vaccinations.”

The vaccination clinic, launched Jan. 11, is run by the university’s Public Health Promotion Center. This week, it will be open today, Jan. 20, from 1 to 6 p.m. Currently, the vaccine clinic is administering the Moderna vaccine, which includes two doses administered 28 days apart.

The clinic is being conducted at the UMass Amherst Campus Center, 1 Campus Center Way. Free parking is available at the nearby Campus Center Parking Garage. Times and hours of the clinic are likely to vary depending on vaccine availability and the state’s distribution plans. Visit the university’s vaccine website for updates.

Daily News

AMHERST — As part of Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to begin statewide vaccinations to deter the spread of COVID-19, UMass Amherst will establish a vaccine clinic for Massachusetts first responders starting the week of Jan. 11.

Individuals eligible to get vaccinated under state guidelines include police, fire, and emergency medical services professionals, who will need to show a professional ID or license confirming their status. All first responders in Massachusetts are eligible to schedule an online appointment in advance and come to UMass Amherst to receive the vaccine. For details, visit www.umass.edu/coronavirus/vaccine.

Plans developed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health call for distribution of the Moderna vaccine, which includes two doses administered 28 days apart.

The clinic will be conducted at the UMass Amherst Campus Center, 1 Campus Center Way. Free parking will be available at the nearby Campus Center Parking Garage. All eligible individuals must register in advance for the two-dose vaccine at www.umass.edu/coronavirus/vaccine.

Daily News

AMHERST — For the first time, UMass Amherst has earned recognition in Princeton Review’s annual selection of Best Graduate Entrepreneurship Programs. In the publication’s 2021 list, the university ranks 40th among 50 colleges and universities.

Based on survey data from more than 300 schools, the rankings encompass a broad range of entrepreneurial activities inside and outside the classroom. The catalyst for student entrepreneurship at UMass Amherst is the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship. The center serves the entire campus through a wealth of activities and resources.

“Our mandate emphasizes participation and synergies on a pan-campus level,” said Gregory Thomas, executive director of the Berthiaume Center. “We may be physically based in Isenberg School of Management, but our mission is campus-wide.”

A former member of the UMass Amherst Foundation, Thomas was hired several years ago because of his extensive relationships with the campus’s deans and administrators. Since then, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy and campus leaders have supported the center’s campus-wide vision, including creation earlier this year of a 13-member pan-campus team to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.

“We want innovation and entrepreneurship to be more,” Thomas said. “To accomplish that, you have to start walking like you’re number one.”

Thomas noted that entrepreneurship courses and scholarships, faculty who focus on entrepreneurship, student competitions, student mentorship by entrepreneurs, and ventures by alumni and non-alumni all fall within the center’s purview. Its annual Innovation Challenge propels student startups through pitch contests and a final competition judged by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Last year, the finals awarded $65,000 in seed money to student startups. The center brings student innovators together from different disciplines for entrepreneurial collaborations and offers networking and mentorship with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and academics, as well as an incubator space for student startups.

Daily News

AMHERST — A significant proportion of people infected by COVID-19, known as ‘long-haulers,’ suffer from prolonged symptoms and chronic fatigue, which can lead to long-term incapacities. Therefore, therapies that can be performed at home and accelerate physical recovery need to be developed.

UMass kinesiology researchers are currently comparing the effects of local heat therapy to exercise training on physical function in previously hospitalized COVID-19 patients, as heat therapy might be a more practical solution and still provide large gains in function for many patients. Volunteers are needed for this study.

Eligibility requirements include being between 55 and 85 years old, having a prolonged hospital stay (at least five days) due to a COVID-19-related infection, not being currently enrolled in a rehabilitation program, and having no prior history of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis. Participants will be compensated for their time.

Contact [email protected] with any questions or to express interest in participating in the study.

Daily News

AMHERST — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technology Office announced that a team led by Dwayne Breger, extension professor at UMass Amherst, has been selected for a three-year, $1.8 million award to study the effects of co-locating solar-energy panels and agriculture operations at up to eight different farms across the Commonwealth. The work will be in partnership with landowners, state agencies, solar developers, and a nonprofit farmland organization.

“Our objective with this award is to have the opportunity to do robust research to address the dearth of data on the impact of this solar approach to agricultural productivity and farm viability,” said Breger, who is also director of UMass Clean Energy Extension. “We need data on how the agriculture will perform and how the project economics will affect individual farms and the state agricultural economy as a whole.

“Right now,” he went on, “many communities don’t have the necessary experience to understand and manage the solar development that is coming, and farmers don’t have science-based facts to fully assess the opportunities that developers are proposing to them. Our project will do the research to allow us to help farmers and communities make informed decisions about the solar opportunities that are coming their way.”

Breger points out that two state agencies, the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and the Department of Energy Resources, are keenly interested in this project, as outcomes will provide the science to inform policy development.

Jody Jellison, director of the UMass Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment and UMass Extension, noted that “the dual use of land for farming and solar energy has gotten many people excited about its potential. Now, with this new project, we’ll be able to begin developing data to quantify the agronomic and economic effects on farming to determine whether that excitement is warranted or not.”

Breger and research colleagues at UMass Extension, the UMass Cranberry Station, the campus’s Department of Resource Economics, and the American Farmland Trust will study the economic and social impact of solar-agriculture co-location on farms by establishing site trials and assessing crop productivity, soil health, and micro-climatic conditions. Sites will grow a range of crops, including pumpkins, strawberries, greens, winter squash, cranberries, other vegetables and fruit, hay, and grazing.

Farm partners are in Grafton, Carver, Dighton, Plympton, Hadley, Colrain, and Charlemont. Solar-developer partners BlueWave Solar, Pine Gate Renewables, and Hyperion Systems are dedicating portions of their commercial dual-use solar installations at these farms for research site trials enabling a robust research scope over varied agricultural conditions. Most site trials will get underway in March 2021 in time for the first planting, Breger said.

He and colleagues will also study public acceptance of solar-agriculture co-location and develop practical co-location management guidelines for growers, solar developers, and other relevant stakeholders. The DOE says it is interested in “research and analysis that enable farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural enterprises to gain value from solar technologies while keeping land available for agricultural purposes.”

Breger noted that UMass Amherst’s Crop Animal Research and Education Center and farm in South Deerfield hosts one of the state’s first dual-use solar-agricultural installations, giving the campus valuable early experience in this research area.

 

Daily News

AMHERST — Six campus researchers in the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) at UMass Amherst have been recognized among the world’s most highly cited researchers in 2020 by London-based Clarivate Analytics, owner of the Web of Science. They have consistently had high citation counts over a decade.

Now in its seventh year, the citation analysis identifies influential researchers as determined by their peers around the world. They are judged to be influential, and their citation records are seen as “a mark of exceptional impact,” the company says.

The six from UMass Amherst are environmental chemist Baoshan Xing in CNS’s Stockbridge School of Agriculture, Distinguished Professor of Food Science David Julian McClements and food scientist Hang Xiao, microbiologist Kelly Nevin Lovley, materials scientist Thomas Russell, and Vincent Rotello, the Charles A. Goessmann Professor of Chemistry and a Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. All are repeat members of the list.

McClements is internationally known for his cutting-edge work in food design and nanotechnology, including encapsulating nutraceuticals in nanoparticles to preserve nutrients. Xiao’s lab focuses on molecular mechanisms and interactions of possible disease-preventing nutraceuticals to enhance nutrient bioavailability through food processing and nanotechnology, among other topics.

Nevin Lovley’s lab, part of the Geobacter Project, works to determine the electron transport chain in these bacteria with a goal to develop techniques to optimize the cells’ electrical production for better fuel-cell performance, among other goals. The Rotello lab takes a multi-disciplinary approach, bringing chemistry, biology, and biomedical engineering to tailor nanomaterials to develop new biological applications.

Russell, internationally known as an inventor, names his lab’s research interests in polymer phase transition, polymers’ surface and interfacial properties, directed self-assembly processes, and using polymers as scaffolds and templates to generate nanoscopic structures. Environmental scientist Xing’s lab focuses on protecting the environment by maintaining and improving soil and water quality. This includes investigating the behavior and agricultural application of engineered nanomaterials and using spectroscopic and analytical instruments to study interactions among organic compounds, natural organic matter, and mineral particles.

The highly cited list, announced from the company’s U.S. office in Philadelphia, names a total of about 3,400 highly cited researchers in science and social-science fields. The company says it focuses on contemporary research achievement, and only highly cited papers in science and social-science journals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection during the most recent 11-year period are surveyed.

Two years ago, Highly Cited Researchers introduced a new cross-field category to identify researchers with substantial influence across several fields during the data census period. At UMass Amherst, Nevin Lovley and Rotello appear in this category for 2020.

“There is no unique or universally agreed concept of what constitutes extraordinary research performance and elite status in the sciences and social sciences,” the report’s editors point out. “Consequently, no quantitative indicators will reveal a list that satisfies all expectations or requirements. Moreover, a different basis or formula for selection would generate a different, though likely overlapping, list of names. Thus, the absence of a name on our list cannot be interpreted as inferior performance or stature in comparison to those selected.”

Healthcare Heroes

At a Time of Crisis, Collaboration Was Key to Meeting the Most Pressing Needs

Peter Reinhart, director of IALS.

Peter Reinhart, director of IALS.

In mid-March, when much of the U.S. was starting to hunker down, Peter Reinhart had a feeling he wouldn’t be — and neither would many of the people he works with.

“We didn’t want to be sitting at home watching this pandemic unfold without doing something,” said Reinhart, director of the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) at UMass Amherst, a facility launched in 2013 with the goal of accelerating life-science research and advancing collaboration with industry to shorten the gap between scientific innovation and technological advancement.

COVID-19 presented a unique opportunity to do exactly that, under time constraints that truly meant something, because people were dying every day. Take, for example, the work at IALS to develop a low-cost face shield for rapid production.

“We are a platform organization that caters to all departments on campus — nursing, computer science, natural sciences, public health, engineering,” Reinhart said, naming just a few. “Because our institute creates an interface across all these different organizations that are usually siloed, it’s much easier for us to pull together nursing staff, molecular biologists, and engineers, and say, ‘we need to make face shields in the next seven days. How can we do it?’ And they did.”

It took a few tries to get the design right, but the team eventually partnered with K+K Thermoforming of Southbridge to fabricate and distribute 81,000 face shields throughout the region. About 50,000 more followed in a second batch, all able to be shipped flat, 300 to a box, and assembled in 20 seconds by the user. Partly because of the logistics of billing and partly because the need was so pressing, IALS essentially gave the shields away.

“The differentiator between UMass and every other organization I’ve ever worked at — in both industry and academia — is this spirit of collaboration,” Reinhart told BusinessWest. “I’ve been at organizations where it’s very hard to get collaborations working across departmental boundaries. It’s much more self-contained, focused on individual greatness as opposed to collective greatness. That’s the difference I see at UMass Amherst — people across organizational boundaries will jump in and help you.”

When the pandemic hit, IALS’ culture and understanding of interdisciplinary work was especially valuable, and eight or nine response teams began working on individual projects, he explained, “some with greater and some with lesser success, but all of them with the best of intentions: to make a difference with the problems that were facing us as a society, using whatever resources we could apply to them.”

“We didn’t want to be sitting at home watching this pandemic unfold without doing something.”

One early project took aim at a worldwide mask shortage. Not all face masks can be safely sterilized and reused, but Professor Richard Peltier’s team demonstrated that hydrogen-peroxide sterilization for N95 respirators does, in fact, work. Using state-of-the-art pollution instruments to measure whether microscopic particles can pass through the mask after it’s sterilized, the results showed no real difference in filtration between a new mask and a sterilized one.

In another project, Baystate Health resident physician Dr. Mat Goebel and respiratory specialist Kyle Walsh contacted the College of Engineering for help with ventilators. Regular, 10-foot ventilator cables were on extreme back order, and longer cables, which would provide added safety to staff by increasing distance and reducing the need for PPE, did not exist. UMass engineers were able to fabricate a 50-foot cable that was compatible with Baystate’s ventilators, and contacted Michigan-based Amphenol Sine Systems, who agreed to design and fabricate the longer cables.

“It’s a really intriguing model,” Reinhart said of the collaboration that went into each project. “It could be a model of the future, to allow interdisciplinary work to function on a campus that by necessity has these organizational boundaries.”

Another team set up local production of viral transport media (VTM) for COVID-19 clinical testing. As testing ramped up nationwide, the solution used to keep COVID-19 samples safe during transport was in short supply, and local hospitals contacted Reinhart for help.

Peter Reinhart with some of the equipment

Peter Reinhart with some of the equipment that can process thousands of COVID-19 tests every day on the UMass campus.

Within one week, IALS had produced, tested, and distributed enough VTM to test 600 patients, before scaling up production and delivery to meet the needs of frontline workers across the state. The campus has enlisted more than 60 volunteers who produce, test, package and distribute VTM, and have provided hundreds of thousands of vials to seven regional hospitals and healthcare facilities and the Massachusetts COVID-19 Response Command Center.

“That project has grown because the need was much larger than anticipated,” Reinhart said. “It was good to see we had so many people prepared to put in their time to help, and great to see that people who had run out of the ability to test were back doing testing. We ended up doing a good thing.”

The latest project is a high-throughput testing facility where IALS can generate up to 5,000 COVID-19 tests per day, enough to have all students, staff, and faculty tested at least once a week.

“We hope this becomes a regional resource that serves the community with rapid testing,” he said, noting that a regional testing bureau charges between $120 and $160 per test, or between $2 million and $3 million per week at the volume UMass can now conduct in-house.

“Imagine what that does to your campus finances,” he went on. “We can do it at 10 cents on the dollar if we do it ourselves. Obviously, you need a major investment in staff, space, and equipment, but once we’ve made that investment, we can do much less expensive tests, they’re completely under our control, the turnaround time is super fast, and we can quickly put people into quarantine and do contact tracing.”

“The differentiator between UMass and every other organization I’ve ever worked at — in both industry and academia — is this spirit of collaboration.”

As time goes on, Reinhart said, IALS — and all the departments at UMass with which it collaborates — will continue to look for places it can make a difference. One ongoing effort involves the development of a clinical testing lab that can identify individuals with antibodies that can neutralize the COVID-19 virus. “Students can donate a sample, and we’ll tell them whether we’re making antibodies or not.”

These efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis — and other projects yet to be determined — will continue, he added, because the pandemic is “far, far, far from over.”

While Western Mass. has been fortunate with its infection numbers, the virus is still spreading at the same rate it was in March, he went on, and a combination of the upcoming flu season and “PPE fatigue,” among other factors, may yield a second spike of some kind. “I think we’re in for a period of increasing difficulties.”

That said, it’s been an immensely gratifying seven months at IALS.

“Everything was gloom and doom, everyone was at home, and it seemed that every news item you picked up was another downer on how dire things were,” he recalled of the situation back in March. “Creating a few feel-good stories and giving our students and faculty a chance to contribute to something positive was very helpful to them. I know it was for me.”

But it’s not how these dozens of unsung individuals feel personally that makes them Healthcare Heroes. It’s the difference they’ve made in the fight against a virus that has proven a persistent, resilient foe.

“We weren’t good at logistics; we were engineers,” Reinhart said of efforts like distributing those tens of thousands of face shields. But that effort demonstrates collaboration, too. “It was exciting. People were excited about throwing their weight behind a project that had immediate impact.”

Impact that will only continue as a truly challenging 2020 turns an uncertain corner into 2021.

 

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

 

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst and the town of Amherst announced that the university will provide asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for the town’s first responders and inspectors as part of their joint efforts to deter spread of the novel coronavirus.

Approximately 100 firefighters, police, and inspectors will be tested once per week in the university’s Public Health Promotion Center at the Mullins Center. The town will reimburse the university for the costs associated with the testing.

“UMass has a long tradition of supporting and partnering with the town’s front-line responders and is deeply appreciative for the invaluable role they play in enhancing the public safety of our campus community,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “Currently, our resources and capacity are limited, but we are pleased to be able to make this commitment for the well-being of the entire community.”

Added Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman, “we appreciate that the university will provide a needed service to the town as we work to keep our employees safe and healthy. Our entire community relies on our expertly trained first-responder teams, and we welcome the opportunity to keep them, and ultimately our town, safe. The university has done a tremendous job in setting up such a professionally run testing regimen, and we deeply appreciate the campus’ willingness to accommodate our request.”

The university’s asymptomatic-testing program is one of the largest in the state. UMass Amherst has conducted more than 70,000 COVID-19 tests since Aug. 6, including approximately 48,000 tests of the off-campus student population living in the Amherst area.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst announced a new collaboration with IntelliVen, a leading executive-team-development organization, to provide interactive remote-learning programs designed to raise the performance and effectiveness of leadership teams.

IntelliVen offers immersive programs designed to help an organization’s core leadership team tackle the unique challenges of managing a growing organization, especially in today’s turbulent markets. IntelliVen’s proprietary set of course modules enables an interactive, remote learning experience that leaders take along with their teams to unlock their true potential to perform and grow.

“IntelliVen teaches leaders, teams, and organizations to set direction, achieve team alignment, implement strategy, and make the change they want to grow faster and perform better,” said Peter DiGiammarino, managing partner.

Members of the university community will receive a discount on the standard price of IntelliVen’s leadership-development immersion programs.

“Education is a journey, not a destination. In fact, we view it as a lifelong journey, not something that ends when a person receives a college degree,” said John Wells, senior vice provost at UMass Amherst. “That’s why partnerships like this are so important. They provide affordable, convenient access to our students and alumni interested in continuous, lifelong learning.”

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst Athletics announced the cancellation of the 2020 UMass football season on Tuesday.

“After consulting with university, state, and public health officials, we have made the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 UMass football season,” Athletic Director Ryan Bamford said. “We have been in constant communication with university leadership and our football staff since March, with the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff remaining our top priority. The continuing challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic posed too great of a risk, and we reached the conclusion that attempting to play a season would not have placed the members of our program in the safest situation possible.”

Football student-athletes will remain enrolled in coursework full-time, either virtually or in-person, in line with the UMass Amherst’s update to its fall reopening plan, announced on Aug. 6. The university will also examine the possibility of playing football in the spring.

Football-team members began returning to campus for team activities in late June, with extensive health and safety protocols in place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. Over the past seven weeks, the program had only one positive test with more than 600 COVID-19 tests administered.

“I am absolutely heartbroken for our players, our former players, our alumni, and our UMass football community,” said Head Coach Walt Bell said. “Our job as coaches and mentors is to provide opportunities for our players, and do everything in our power to not take them away. Today’s news was devastating, but we will be resilient and prepared to be our best when our best is required.

“I would like to give an unbelievable amount of gratitude to our medical professionals, our administration, our campus, our athletic training staff and our operations staff for creating one of the safest environments in college football,” he added. “The testing, the protocols, the risk mitigation, and the execution have been incredible.”

UMass football did not complete its spring practice regiment or host its spring game due to the NCAA’s cancellation of athletic activities in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These times have presented us with extensive uncertainty, and we are disappointed for all the members of our fall sports programs who will not have the opportunity to compete this autumn,” Bamford said. “We remain hopeful and fully intend to conduct a competitive schedule for our fall sports in the 2021 spring semester.”

Daily News

AMHERST — Beginning with the spring 2021 term, and continuing for each spring and fall term through spring 2023, UMass Amherst will make standardized tests optional for its first-year entering applicants.

For the past several months, the university has monitored how possible, safe, and secure it will be for students to take the SAT or ACT. In recent weeks, said James Roche, vice provost for Enrollment Management, it has become obvious that the challenges to testing presented by the coronavirus pandemic will persist in the months ahead.

“UMass Amherst draws applications from throughout the world, and few, if any, states and countries currently offer testing sites that provide the access and safety that students, families, and schools have come to expect,” he said. “This is especially true for students who already encounter barriers in pursuit of a college education, including under-represented minority, first-generation, and low-income students. Given all these considerations, going test-optional is clearly the right choice.”

Historically, UMass Amherst has used a holistic review to evaluate applicants. The quantitative assessment component of that review was done using a formula that combined the applicant’s high school GPA and the best combination of test scores. Roche said the university’s research shows that, of the separate components, the high-school GPA is a stronger predictor of student performance, persistence, and success; however, it is also known that the combination of the two components provides an even stronger predictor than either the GPA or test score alone.

The university has analyzed three years of data and more than 100,000 applicant records to develop a formula for its test-optional assessment that uses the high-school GPA as the base. For applicants who either have or will submit test scores, UMass Amherst will compare the result of the formula with and without the test score included and give the applicant the highest value of the two. This test-optional approach applies to all majors. As it always has, UMass Amherst will continue to consider the rigor of students’ high-school coursework in its assessment, especially for courses that apply most directly to the applicant’s intended major.

“UMass Amherst has committed to being test-optional for the next three years,” Roche said. “As one of the country’s top 25 public research universities, we look forward to using the test-optional approach during this period to learn more about the relationship between high-school grades and standardized test scores, and to develop even better models for predicting student success in college. Our mission is to identify and recruit students who can grow and thrive at UMass Amherst, progressing to earn their degree as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Certain methods of decontaminating medical face masks for repeated use during the COVID-19 pandemic appear to damage the masks’ integrity and protective function, according to research by a UMass Amherst environmental-health scientist.

“Some treatments for decontamination had no impact on respirator performance, while other treatments resulted in substantial damage to masks,” writes Richard Peltier, associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and lead author of the paper published July 16 in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.

Peltier received a fast-track grant from the National Science Foundation in May to study the impact of various sterilization techniques authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in light of the shortage of medical face masks, also known as N95 respirators.

“Given the global N95 shortages, clinicians face a choice: wearing a used, and potentially infected, respirator, or wearing one that was decontaminated through a process that may affect the integrity of the respirator,” added Peltier, whose co-authors include doctors and researchers at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston and UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester.

Peltier uses state-of-the-art pollution detection instruments and a mannequin head in his lab to measure whether microscopic particles can pass through the masks after they are sterilized. “Respirators must be effective across a range of potential conditions to provide protection since droplets that contain virus particles immediately start to evaporate and shrink,” he explained.

While the testing was limited by the availability of processed masks provided by hospitals in Massachusetts, the study draws several generalizable conclusions, he noted.

Respirators that were treated between one and 10 times with specific vaporized hydrogen peroxide sterilizers or up to five times with shorter decontamination cycles of gas plasma hydrogen peroxide (gpHP) retain their original filtration capabilities. A decontamination process using ultraviolent germicidal irradiance slowly diminishes filtration efficiency, reaching a level that warrants caution after nine repeated treatments, the research found. “However, there are still a number of sterilizer systems that are being used on these masks which we don’t have information about and therefore can’t determine if they keep workers safe,” Peltier said.

Treatments with high concentrations of gpHP or longer processing times degraded filtration performance below the requirement for N95 masks, which should be capable of filtering 95% of 300-nanometer particles.

For comparison, Peltier also tested a KN95 mask, some brands of which have been removed from the FDA’s emergency-use list due to poor performance, and a four-ply polyester bandanna. Neither had been treated with any decontamination technique, and both performed below N95 standards. Peltier also found that immersing an N95 mask in a 10% bleach solution degraded its performance.

Peltier noted that his study did not address the masks’ fit or general integrity, including elastic function, corrosion on staples and compression of the respirator, all of which are important for proper functioning. His research highlights the importance of using decontamination techniques shown to be safe for the reuse of N95 masks.

“We hope this work supports good decision making that protects those who are on the front lines of this pandemic keeping us all safe,” he said. “Without them, none of us are safe.”

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst announced its fall 2020 reopening plan, noting that, while almost all courses will be taught remotely this fall, students will be given the option to live on campus under exacting public-health restrictions. No students will be required to return to campus, and students will determine which option, taking courses while living at home or in campus residence halls, is best according to their personal health, educational path, and home environment.

“Students who choose to attend UMass Amherst do so not only for the quality of the faculty and the academic programs, but also for the immersive experience, which offers opportunities for enrichment that can be undertaken with a diverse group of peers,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “As best we can — and there are severe limitations in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — we will strive to sustain the community connections that represent UMass at its best.”

The plan makes clear there are inherent risks to joining a residential campus environment this fall, and it provides students the opportunity to consult with their families and decide what is best for them. Subbaswamy emphasized that “it is important to understand that life on campus will not be anything resembling normal college life.”

In announcing the plan, UMass Amherst joins a small number of schools giving students the option to determine whether to spend the semester on campus or at home. The decision to invite first-year, transfer, and returning undergraduate students to live on campus was informed in part by the overwhelming feedback from students that they want to pursue their studies on campus — and, indeed, intended to seek out rental units in the area even if residence halls were not reopened.

For students who choose to reside in on-campus housing or expect to spend any time on campus, standards will be exacting. Students must agree not only to the standard Code of Student Conduct, but also to a set of protocols outlined in the UMass Agreement, a commitment they will be required to sign.

Protocols for students include strict physical distancing, wearing face coverings outside personal living spaces, limiting social contacts to a minimal number of people per day, the prohibition of guests in residence halls, subjecting themselves to virus testing on demand, daily self-monitoring and reporting, assisting with contact tracing, and limiting travel away from the immediate campus area for work and/or emergencies only.

Health and Safety

The university will establish a Public Health Promotion Center to be the central coordinating and operational center for COVID-19 on campus. It will focus on the following: asymptomatic testing (symptomatic testing will be conducted at University Health Services), contact tracing, coordinating isolation and quarantine, flu vaccinations, and communication outreach focused on health promotion with public-health ambassadors.

The university is developing a comprehensive surveillance, testing, isolation, and contact-tracing program that students must comply with both on- and off-campus. All students, faculty, and staff will be asked to self-monitor on a daily basis for COVID-19 symptoms before coming to campus. All students returning to campus will be tested prior to arrival. During the fall semester, any student experiencing even the slightest symptoms will be tested by University Health Services.

Students living on campus who test positive for COVID-19 will have the option to return to their home to isolate for the appropriate amount of time, or they will be placed in isolation housing on campus and be provided with support services and a daily wellness call. Off-campus students are also encouraged to develop an isolation and quarantine plan with their family and roommates. The university will provide support services in a student’s off-campus location or home, but it will not provide on-campus isolation or quarantine space.

Teaching and Learning

The university previously announced an altered academic calendar for fall 2020, with a start date of Aug. 24 for classes. Classes will end Nov. 20, at Thanksgiving break, when students will move out of residence halls. Final exams will be conducted remotely after Thanksgiving break. Classes also will be held on Labor Day, Columbus Day, and Veterans Day.

A majority of the fall 2020 curriculum will be fully remote, with only essential labs, studios, performances, and hands-on courses offered in-person and focused on the upper-level curriculum to provide seniors with timely progress toward degree completion. Some students who live on campus may have a fully remote curriculum, a factor they should consider in their decision whether to come to campus.

Classroom capacities will be limited to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. Additional sections of courses may be added to reduce class sizes. Course schedules will be adjusted to increase time between classes to reduce interactive foot traffic on campus and provide time for increased cleaning of lab and classroom spaces when needed. Students will be encouraged to be patient and flexible regarding classroom assignments and course schedules.

Libraries are currently working on a phased reopening plan for restoration of in-person services and on-site access to their collections. Until then, the libraries will continue to provide access to materials through the Library Express service.

Residential Life

While all courses that do not require physical presence on campus will be offered remotely this fall, all undergraduate students who have reserved on-campus housing for the upcoming semester, and for whom there is space available, are invited to live on campus under strict public-health behavioral restrictions.

After July 1, Residential Life will communicate with students who have a current housing assignment about their eligibility to live on campus. Students who plan on canceling their housing assignment should contact Residential Life immediately to inform them of their change of plans.

Life in the residence halls will be altered to include pedestrian-flow restrictions, restrictions on group gatherings, and limited face-to-face contact. No guests will be allowed in residence halls until further notice.

Move-in for fall semester will take place over multiple days to reduce the amount of people on campus at any time, and students may bring only two family members or helpers to assist them. Students are advised to bring fewer items to campus this fall and plan for 12 weeks of residential time as opposed to an entire school year due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. Also, if COVID-19 cases spike in Massachusetts, the university may close down residence halls and send students home.

Students who either do not have access to the main campus or who are seeking a residential option beyond the main campus may apply for housing on the Mount Ida campus in Newton. All health and safety protocols on the main campus will be in effect in Newton, but the total residential population at the Newton campus will be limited by available housing to fewer than 500 students. All courses taught in Newton beyond essential face-to-face courses for on-site programs (such as veterinary technology) will be offered remotely.

Campus Life

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university is offering its immersive residential experience, which is conducive to students’ learning and academic progress, in a manner that is intended to provide safeguards for the health and well-being of the entire campus community. Given this situation, campus life will be a different experience in the fall, with all members of the campus community playing an important role in mitigating the infection and spread of the virus.

Most student services will be offered remotely, including the services of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health. The Recreation Center will be open, but there will be limits and restrictions on activities. The center will also livestream fitness classes through the intramural leagues.

UMass Dining will adapt its services to current federal and state guidelines for food service. It will offer new grab-and-go stations, online ordering for many of its retail locations, and tents for outdoor dining on campus.

Student activities will center on small-group, in-person events, and larger virtual events.

The complete reopening plan, including a detailed set of frequently asked questions, can be found at www.umass.edu/reopening.

Daily News

AMHERST — The Massachusetts eHealth Institute at MassTech (MeHI) selected six new healthcare research and development (R&D) hubs to join the Digital Health Sandbox Network, including UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS).

The Sandbox Network program connects digital-health startups to cutting-edge R&D facilities in the Commonwealth and allows Massachusetts startups to apply for funding to test their innovations at one of the networks’ labs, now including IALS. Sandbox R&D facilities provide a range of services supporting validation and testing for digital health companies throughout their life cycles.

“Establishing a translational institute at UMass that provides startup lab space; more than 30 industry-friendly, staffed core equipment facilities; and individualized venture-mentoring services creates an exciting environment for digital-health companies in Western Massachusetts,” IALS Director Peter Reinhart said.

Andrew Vinard, IALS director of Core Facilities, added that “our core facilities will now have access to a wider network of potential users who may not have found us but for the Sandbox program and MeHI’s engagement. This will be a catalyst to bring digital health-focused companies to our doors to access the broad array of resources and expertise we can devote to their projects. Being in the Sandbox Network also broadens our core facilities access to expertise, which we hope will translate to inter-institutional projects to take advantage of the wealth of resources Massachusetts has to offer to our digital-health industry.”

IALS helps to shepherd and translate fundamental research into new product candidates, technologies, and services that benefit human health and well-being. IALS also helps users address both basic and translational questions, deliver technologies and product candidates more rapidly, and become more competitive in obtaining funding. Facilities include a state-of-the-art test bed for mobile health experiments at scale, the Center for Human Health and Performance, a roll-to-roll fabrication and processing facility, and research laboratory space for lease.

In 2019, Gov. Charlie Baker announced $500,000 in funding for the Sandbox program as part of the Commonwealth’s efforts to boost the digital-health ecosystem under the Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — In one of the latest COVID-19 response projects at UMass Amherst, the Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication (ADDFab) laboratory is collaborating with a global network of design, engineering, and manufacturing experts to help develop an open-source N95 face mask.

ADDFab, one of the core facilities at UMass’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences, has been rapidly preparing 3D prints of prototype parts and molds for Cofab Design in Holyoke. Cofab business partner and design engineer Aaron Cantrell is one of the primary leaders of the Open Standard Respirator project, a nonprofit effort to broaden protective equipment supply for COVID-19 and beyond. The other leaders are biomechatronics engineer Matt Carney of the MIT Media Lab Biomechatronics Group and Philip Brown, assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

The project grew out of a grassroots desire to address the critical shortage of N95 masks caused by the pandemic. “There was a huge increase in demand that was beyond the ability of existing manufacturers to keep up with in a quick way,” Cantrell said. “There were no designs for people who wanted to chip in and start to help with this problem.”

Cantrell and Cofab’s two other partners, Mike Stone and Jake Horsey, with whom ADDFab has previously worked, needed a prototyping partner that could produce parts overnight and economically for the modular, reusable, filtering facepiece respirator. ADDFab student workers were able to turn around prototype pieces in both laser-sintered nylon and UV-cured polymer the day after the designs were digitally received in the lab.

“This project is a really good fit for our lab,” ADDFab Director David Follette said. “We can use high-end printers to print molds for silicone parts, which have very demanding requirements for accuracy and surface finish.”

Both Follette and Stone agree that the ongoing, local working relationship between ADDFab and Cofab quickly pushed the project forward. “To get prototypes that quickly from a third party or online service bureau would just be astronomically expensive, and then require overnight shipping,” Follette said.

Added Stone, “there was a huge amount of pressure to do this quickly, and we were sprinting to get things done. We had a trusted relationship with someone within driving distance from us who can deliver high-quality components using world-class materials and processes. This was the best-case scenario.”

Among other parts, ADDFab printed the mold tooling for the silicone face piece, allowing Cofab to test it out before committing to expensive metal tooling necessary for mass production.

“By locally 3D printing the molds and testing them quickly, they could be much more confident in their design when beginning to manufacture at scale,” Follette explained.

Cofab used the prototypes to finalize its design of the mask, which is now being field-tested at sites around the world. “It’s free for people who want to produce it,” Stone said. “At the end of the day, we want safe, reliable PPE to be in the hands of more people.”

A nonprofit will hold the license for the respirator design, and the makers will be responsible for seeking any certifications or approvals, if desired.

“On a bigger-picture front,” Stone said, “this is how open-source medical products might be able to work in the future.”

Daily News

AMHERST — Nearly 100 colleagues recently joined an online celebration to honor Professor Hava Siegelmann of the UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS), as she received the rarely awarded Meritorious Public Service Medal from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the third-highest honor the Department of the Army can bestow on a private citizen.

“The distinctive accomplishments of Dr. Siegelmann reflect great credit upon herself, DARPA, and the Department of Defense,” reads the citation in part.

Added Siegelmann, “I didn’t know that anyone was noticing what I do. It was so touching, and a complete surprise. I feel honored to be contributing. I think UMass should get credit for supporting me to run a very advanced AI lab such that the government wanted to invite me, and for allowing me to join what is literally the world’s most advanced and sophisticated AI initiative.”

CICS Dean Laura Haas added that “I am extremely proud of Hava’s service to DARPA and the nation. Our college is dedicated to a vision of computing for the common good, and Hava’s work at DARPA has helped to advance AI for us all.”

Siegelmann went to DARPA as a program manager in July 2016, where her charge included “that the United States needs to stay on top in AI,” she recalled.

Her citation noted that “she created and managed some of DARPA’s largest and most advanced AI programs, including L2M — developing next-generation advanced AI systems capable of learning in real time and applying learning to environments and circumstances not specifically trained for.”

Siegelmann, whose career is characterized by thinking outside the box, created a different atmosphere for the L2M project than is usual at DARPA. With its support, she insisted that the large, diverse teams of scientists she chose from the nation’s top university and industry research organizations must actively collaborate. “Such a large leap in AI technology can only be achieved when we top researchers all put our strengths together and learn from each other,” she said.

The medal cites another major DARPA program Siegelmann created called GARD (Guaranteeing AI Robustness Against Deception), which aims to establish the theoretical machine-learning system vulnerabilities, characterize properties that will enhance system robustness, and encourage the creation of effective defenses. As systems become more advanced, these advancements open new avenues by which they can be attacked. GARD identifies often-obscure, technically complex vulnerabilities and builds new-generation defenses for them, she noted.

DARPA also points out that Siegelmann’s “exceptionally productive” term included developing a system that administers insulin plus dextrose to maintain glucose at safe levels for patients in critical care and those with diabetes; sensors to identify dangerous chemicals from a safe distance; collaborative, secure learning systems that allow group collaboration without revealing sensitive data; and methods to identify attacks by reverse engineering to secure the system and find the attacker.

“L2M has had major success in creating systems capable of learning and improving in real time,” Siegelmann said.

Daily News

AMHERST — A group of artificial-intelligence experts, including computer vision researcher and lead author Erik Learned-Miller of the UMass Amherst College of Information and Computer Sciences, recently proposed a new model for managing facial-recognition technologies at the federal level.

In a whitepaper titled “Facial Recognition Technologies in the Wild: A Call for a Federal Office,” the authors propose an FDA-inspired model that categorizes these technologies by degrees of risk and would institute corresponding controls.

“There are a lot of problems with face recognition, like breach of privacy, surveillance, unequal performance across subgroups, and profiling,” Learned-Miller explained. “Due to the high-stakes situations in which this technology is being deployed, such as in police work, financial decision making, and analysis of job applicants, harms from inaccuracies or misuse are a real and growing problem.”

Further, “people have proposed a variety of possible solutions, but we argue that they are not enough. We are proposing a new federal office for regulating the technology. We model it after some of the offices in the Food and Drug Administration for regulating medical devices and pharmaceuticals.”

He said the FDA provides a model or precedent of centralized regulation for managing complex technologies with major societal implications. Such an independent agency would encourage addressing the facial-recognition technology ecosystem as a whole. The whitepaper describing the researchers’ proposal is accompanied by a primer and basic introduction to the terminology, applications, and difficulties of evaluating this complex set of technologies.

Learned-Miller’s co-authors are Joy Buolamwini of MIT’s Media Lab and founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, computer scientist Vicente Ordóñez of the University of Virginia, and Jamie Morgenstern at the University of Washington. The project was supported by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

The authors write that, while various cities and states have begun to pass laws that provide oversight of facial-recognition technologies, these individual measures are not enough to guarantee the consistent protection of people’s rights or set shared expectations for organizations that buy and sell in the tech market. Although the task is complex, this whitepaper provides actionable recommendations.

Buolamwini said the paper is a starting point for how society might establish redlines and guidelines for a complex range of facial-recognition technologies. “Left unchecked,” the authors write, “they threaten to propagate discrimination and intensify the risks for eroding civil liberties and human rights.”

Last year, Learned-Miller and two others received an award from the International Conference on Computer Vision for work on one of the most influential face datasets in the world, Labeled Faces in the Wild. It has been used by companies like Google and Facebook to test their facial-recognition accuracy.

Daily News

AMHERST — The American Institute of Architecture’s (AIA) Committee on the Environment (COTE) announced recently that the John W. Olver Design Building on the UMass Amherst campus is a winner this year of its highest honor, the COTE Top Ten Awards. Projects “illustrate the solutions architects have provided for the health and welfare of our communities and the planet,” the AIA citation says.

The COTE jury wrote of the Olver Building, “the space is made possible by an innovative wood-truss system showing us how to reach beyond the cross-laminated timber (CLT) systems to make larger spaces. Its courtyard guarantees views and access to campus to everyone within the building and is well-integrated into the larger campus.”

Called the most technologically advanced CLT building in the country, the Design Building opened in 2017 to house the campus’s Department of Architecture, Building and Construction Technology Program (BCT), and Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. The BCT program developed some of the CLT technology used and has since been testing native Massachusetts wood species for CLT suitability.

The building is named for former congressman and UMass Amherst Chemistry professor John Olver and was designed by Boston architectural firm Leers Weinzapfel. In 2014, Olver attended a talk by associate professor of Environmental Conservation Peggi Clouston of the BCT program. She noted how CLT construction using lower-quality wood was enjoying a comeback. Olver, recognizing an expanded use for regional wood, encouraged campus officials to consider adopting the new technology.

Built of CLT timber and glue-laminated columns, the 87,000-square-foot Design Building saves the equivalent of more than 2,300 metric tons of carbon compared to a traditional energy-intense steel and concrete building. It uses 54% less energy than a typical campus building and is one of two in North America to use CLT for wind and seismic resistance.

Its footprint once a parking lot, the building now includes a rooftop garden and rain-garden landscaping. A central courtyard highlights natural light while reducing heat loss. Its open central stairway invites visitors to take the stairs instead of an elevator.

Previously, among other awards, the Olver Design Building was named the Jury’s Choice for Wood Innovation in the WoodWorks 2018 Wood Design national awards for excellence in wood building design. In November 2017, it was honored with an Award of Merit in the Engineering News-Record list of New England’s 2017 Best Projects in the Higher Education/Research category.

Daily News

AMHERST — In the largest study of its kind in any non-European population, an international team of researchers, including a UMass Amherst genetic epidemiologist, has identified new genetic links with type 2 diabetes among 433,540 East Asian individuals.

The findings, published in Nature, “provide additional insight into the biological basis of type 2 diabetes,” said co-lead author and statistician Cassandra Spracklen, assistant professor of Biostatistics and Epidemiology in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences.

Spracklen served as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during the research. “How diabetes comes about in different populations can occasionally vary in subtle but significant ways,” she says. “With studies like these, we are able to come at that question a little better.”

Ultimately, the goal is to identify potential genetic targets to treat or even cure the chronic metabolic disorder that affects and sometimes debilitates more than 400 million adults worldwide, according to the International Diabetes Federation.

The international team of more than 100 researchers was led by scientists at five institutions in Singapore, the U.S., South Korea, the U.K., and Japan. The research was funded by more than 30 governmental sources and foundations.

“Such a large-scale study would never have been possible without the commitment and dedication to collaboration among so many scientists around the world, especially in Asia,” said Karen Mohlke, professor of Genetics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and one of the study’s senior authors. “The data this team collected and analyzed has provided the research community with much-needed new information about the biological underpinnings of diabetes.”

The other senior authors are Xueling Sim of the National University of Singapore, Dr. Bong-Jo Kim of the National Institute of Health in Cheongjusi, South Korea; Robin Walters of the University of Oxford, U.K.; and Dr. Takashi Kadowaki of the University of Tokyo, Japan.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that the Mechanical Ventilator Milano (MVM) is safe for use in the U.S. under the FDA’s emergency-use authorization, which helps support public health during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

An international team of physicists and engineers, including physicist Andrea Pocar at UMass Amherst, brought a simplified ventilator from concept to approval in just six weeks, from March 19 to May 1. It was conceived by physicist Cristian Galbiati of Princeton University and the Gran Sasso Science Institute in L’Aquila, Italy, who was in Italy when the pandemic hit that country.

Galbiati, Pocar’s long-time friend and fellow researcher on the DarkSide-20k project recalls, “the sense of crisis was palpable. It was clear that many patients would need respiratory assistance.”

Moved to help, Galbiati reached out to fellow researchers from the DarkSide-20k dark-matter experiment to develop a ventilator with minimal components that could be quickly produced using commonly available parts. Dark-matter researchers have extensive experience designing and using sophisticated gas-handling systems and complex control systems, the same capabilities required for mechanical ventilators.

Pocar noted that particle physicists “build our own stuff, one-of-a-kind instruments, and we have experience in developing unique electronics and software for our experiments.”

Soon engineers and physicists in nine countries, particularly in Italy, the U.S., and Canada, jumped in to help. Steve Brice, the head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermilab Neutrino Division, noted that “there’s a huge benefit we’ve gained from the way particle-physics collaborations work. The structure already in place has large, international, multi-disciplinary groups. We can retask that structure to work on something different, and you can move much more quickly.”

The MVM is inspired by the Manley ventilator built in the 1960s. Its design is simple, cheap, compact, and requires only compressed oxygen or medical air and a source of electrical power. The team updated the electronics and control system. Stephen Pordes, a member of DarkSide stationed at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), noted that “we’re concentrating on the software and letting the hardware be as minimal as it can be.”

The team also worked with doctors, medical-device manufacturers, and regulators to make sure they were making something valuable and easy for medical staff to use, with a robust supply chain, and which could be quickly produced. Doctors tested the MVM prototypes on breathing simulators. Anesthesiologists from COVID-19 wards in a hard-hit region in Italy also offered detailed guidance on the design, the MVM team reported.

“MVM demonstrates that international cooperation that advances intellectual and technological innovation is possible not only in the academic arena, but also in areas where basic research impacts society and political decisions,” Pocar said, adding that the next step will be to facilitate the development of devices based on the open-source MVM in other countries, and to “try to facilitate as much as possible the seeding of entrepreneurship around this device. The intellectual property behind it would come for free for whoever wants to use it.”

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Emergency federal financial-aid grants totaling $8.3 million were distributed to more than 7,700 undergraduate students this week by UMass Amherst, the latest in a number of steps the campus has taken to support students experiencing economic distress due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The funds were allocated through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities (CARES) Act. Grants were calculated based upon a number of factors, including financial need and an estimate of additional costs of food, housing, course materials, technology, healthcare, and childcare. To receive the grants, the law requires that students must be U.S. citizens or eligible non-citizens, according to guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. These are students who are eligible for federal aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. The grants provide additional financial aid to students and will not affect their existing financial-aid award.

Meanwhile, a $1 million pool of financial aid is being established for graduate students, a combination of CARES Act funds and university money.

UMass Amherst’s disbursement of CARES Act grants follows a series of previous measures taken to support students. These include issuing more than $40 million in room, meal, and parking refunds; $150,000 in COVID-19 hardship grants; support from the Student Care and Emergency Relief Fund; short-term emergency loans; approximately $300,000 to assist students returning from study abroad with airline-rebooking fees; and assistance offered by the Student Legal Services Office and the international Programs Office.

“We are appreciative of all the support provided by the Massachusetts congressional delegation, which pushed so hard for the inclusion of this funding that allows us to assist our neediest students in this time of crisis,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “Of course, we realize that, for some, even with the combination of these resources, there will still be hardships. We encourage them to seek additional counsel from our Dean of Students Office. We will steadfastly work with the state and federal governments, and our generous donors, to continue to help all our students pursue their studies and complete their degrees without delay or hindrance.”

Added UMass President Marty Meehan, “these grants will help keep the aspiration of a college degree alive for thousands of UMass students who will go on to make a valuable contribution to society. I am grateful for the skilled advocacy that our congressional delegation demonstrated in securing these funds, and the outstanding leadership that Chancellor Subbaswamy and his team have shown in rapidly getting these critical funds to students.”

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Researchers at the UMass Amherst Labor Center released a new report providing some of the first data on the safety and security of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clare Hammonds and Jasmine Kerrissey conducted an online survey of more than 1,600 essential workers in Western Mass. who were at work April 17-24. As of late April, Massachusetts had the third-highest COVID-19 case count among all states, and two cities in Western Mass. ranked among the cities with the highest death rates per 1,000 population in the country — Springfield (which ranked seventh) and Greenfield (11th), according to data compiled by the New York Times.

Hammonds and Kerrissey found that more than half of all essential workers surveyed, 51%, report that they do not feel safe at work. Among respondents, 65% say they are unable to practice social distancing, 29% did not receive COVID-19 transmission training, 21% lack masks, 17% lack hand sanitizer, 8% lack regular hand-washing opportunities, and 16% were asked by their employers to not share their health information with co-workers.

“Essential workers sustain our ability to live during this crisis, going to work to provide critical food, shelter, transportation, health, and safety, in a range of industries from healthcare and transportation to social services and public safety,” said Hammonds, professor of Practice in the UMass Amherst Labor Center. “Essential workers risk exposure to COVID-19 without proper safety precautions. The findings of this research provide important insight into how to protect the workforce as we begin to reopen the economy.”

The report, titled “A Survey of Essential Workers’ Safety and Security During COVID-19,” also found that:

• 67% of grocery and other retail workers report feeling unsafe at work, which is greater than healthcare workers (51%);

• Low-wage workers (less than $20 per hour) were two to three times more likely than high-wage workers (more than $40 per hour) to lack access to basic safety measures, including masks, hand sanitizer, regular hand washing, and training;

• Substantial numbers of low-wage workers report that they have been unable to meet their family’s food needs (34%), housing needs (9%), and childcare needs (16%) in the last week;

• 38% of Latino essential workers report food insecurity, compared to 21% of their white counterparts;

• About half of the survey’s respondents (52%) report their work has become more intense;

• Only 20% report receiving hazard pay; and

• 17% of essential workers lack paid sick leave, and roughly half say they are unable to use paid time off if a family member falls ill.

“Health and safety protections, hazard pay, greater enforcement of municipal ordinances, and protection of workers’ rights to self-organize are critical to improving worker safety,” said Kerrissey, assistant professor of Sociology in the Labor Center.

“I go to work six days a week,” one office cleaner told the researchers. “I go in after all employees have left to clean and disinfect the entire bank. I do six a night. When I am home, I do not leave my house for anything. I get all food/supplies delivered. What would improve my situation would be to not be working so I can stay home, as I’m quite afraid to leave my house now. But that’s not financially possible.”

When asked about what they need, a convenience store worker said, “the part that makes me feel unsafe is the customers. People are only supposed to come out for essential things, and that is not the case. People that are staying at home come in for a cup of coffee five times a day. Make it at home. People do not know the difference between what they want and what they need … About 50% of guests have no concept of six feet. They think because our backs are to each other, it’s fine … or, just quickly getting a coffee, it’s OK to be within six feet of each other.”

One hardware-store worker said, “going to a hardware store and buying bird food is not really essential, and it’s putting us at risk. Customers don’t seem to care about this virus that’s going around, making us workers not feeling safe.”

A low-wage retail worker added, “we are risking infecting our family by working, and they don’t give us anything extra in our paychecks to be able to buy more food. What we earn is for paying rent, electricity, insurance, and the rest is barely enough to buy food.”

COVID-19 Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — UMass Amherst has donated 300 face shields to the skilled-nursing center at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing. The face shields were developed by UMass researchers, engineers, nurses, and other health care professionals, and arrive at a time when personal protective equipment (PPE) is in very short supply for many nursing facilities in the region and throughout the country.

The design created by UMass enables the face shields to be mass-produced quickly by existing manufacturers. The first order placed by the Face Shield COVID-19 Response Team at UMass Amherst produced 80,000 face shields, manufactured by K+K Thermoforming, a company based in Southbridge.

“During challenging times such as these, we celebrate the spirit of collaboration and cooperation evidenced by the donation of needed face shields to Loomis by the University of Massachusetts,” said Marge Mantoni, CEO of the Loomis Communities. “The shields are being immediately employed in the Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing nursing center by our medical and related staff in serving our nursing-center residents. Many times over the past 12 years, the Loomis Communities has collaborated with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and we welcome this generous gift of face shields as we work together in this time of crisis.”

UMass contributed more than $30,000 toward the initial production of face shields and hundreds of volunteer hours designing, testing, revising, and manufacturing the shields.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — With the rapid onset of smell and taste loss emerging as symptoms of COVID-19, scientists around the world — including a sensory expert at UMass Amherst — have united to investigate the connection between the chemical senses and the novel coronavirus.

The wave of reports from patients and clinicians about anosmia, or smell loss, inspired the creation of the Global Consortium of Chemosensory Researchers. Alissa Nolden, UMass Amherst assistant professor of Food Science, is among the 500 clinicians, neurobiologists, data and cognitive scientists, sensory researchers, and technicians from 38 countries gathering data in a worldwide survey to unravel how the virus is transmitted and how to prevent its spread.

Nolden was invited by a colleague at the National Institutes of Health to help develop strategies around measuring the sensory-related symptoms of the coronavirus. “Smell and/or taste loss may be an early indicator of COVID-19, as individuals appear to report loss of smell or taste prior to other symptoms,” she said. “We also want to better understand the mechanism behind taste and smell loss as a result of this virus.”

She notes that the common cold, influenza, and other viral infections are known to cause changes in smell, which are thought to be related to blocked or stuffed-up nasal passages. “This prevents both smelling odors outside and inside the mouth, which can also result in reduced perception of food flavor,” she said. “But typically, you do not have a reduced sense of taste, meaning your perception of sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami remain the same.”

Another interesting characteristic of COVID-19, Nolden said, is that some patients also appear to have a reduced sense of chemesthesis, or chemical sensitivity. “This is unique, unlike the common cold. Some individuals have reduced oral burn from chili peppers or reduced or loss of cooling sensation from menthol.”

Nolden noted that some people with COVID-19 who experience sensory losses may not have any other coronavirus symptoms. The researchers hope to learn more about this from the survey, since people with sensory symptoms alone are not likely to qualify for a COVID-19 test.

“This has been a tremendous effort from collaborators from around the globe to gain a better understanding of the negative impact of COVID-19 on loss of taste and smell,” she said. “We hope to learn a lot about these symptoms and believe it will have a great impact on our understanding of the virus.”

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Engineers from UMass Amherst responded to a request from Baystate Health in Springfield for help in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic by designing new, longer control cables for ventilators and the elimination of battery power sources. The design changes, developed by a team of electrical and computer engineers, allow medical personnel to control the ventilators at a distance and without using personal protection equipment, and they provide a more reliable source of power.

The UMass Amherst team includes Christopher Hollot, professor and department head at the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE); Baird Soules, a senior lecturer at ECE; and Shira Epstein, a lecturer at ECE. Other contributing members are ECE alumnus Tom Kopec; undergraduate Jeremy Paradie; Scott Glorioso, president of the Battery Eliminator Store and son of former UMass ECE Professor Robert Glorioso; and Chris Denney, chief technical officer at Worthington Assembly in South Deerfield.

Hollot said these two projects were a team effort. “This engineering response spanned the greater UMass family, including alumni, undergraduate, the makerspace community, local industry, and faculty.”

Baystate Health resident physician Dr. Mat Goebel initially contacted the Electrical and Computer Engineering department to fabricate a 25-foot control cable for hospital ventilators. The existing cable length is less than 10 feet. The engineers determined that longer cables did not exist and that the original shorter cables are extremely back-ordered. They also found that a key part of the design, the connectors, is proprietary.

They modified an old control cable from Baystate to analyze the signaling and determined that a longer cable was theoretically viable. The team then fabricated a 50-foot cable that was successfully tested on one of Baystate’s ventilators for empirical validation.

The team then tracked down the control cable manufacturer, Amphenol Sine Systems. At the request of the UMass Amherst researchers, the company agreed to design and fabricate these longer control cables. Baystate is now ordering the longer cables directly from the manufacturer.

Goebel and Kyle Walsh, respiratory specialist in Clinical Engineering at Baystate Health, also requested a design to allow portable ventilators to run on ordinary electrical power from a wall socket. The portable ventilators are designed to run on two D batteries with a lifespan of 48 hours. In a clinical setting, a wall-power solution removes the need for checking and replacing batteries every two days.

The UMass team solved the problem using a commercial off-the-shelf battery eliminator. They ordered a suitable battery eliminator and successfully tested it on a portable ventilator at Baystate. Subsequently, Baystate ordered 50 of these power supplies directly from the Battery Eliminator Store.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Answering an urgent call for assistance from regional healthcare systems, a volunteer team of scientists at UMass Amherst is preparing, testing, and delivering thousands of vials of viral transport media, a chemical solution needed for COVID-19 diagnostic testing. Their work is having a statewide impact.

Team leaders have recruited and trained several dozen volunteers, producing 13,000 vials for seven healthcare systems: Baystate Health, Berkshire Medical Center, Cooley Dickinson Health Care, Harrington Hospital, Heywood Hospital, Holyoke Medical Center, and the Northampton VA. In addition, Massachusetts’ COVID-19 Response Command Center has requested 10,000 tubes a week.

A critical shortage of the solution, which largely had been sourced from Northern Italy, has limited testing capabilities across the nation. Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the UMass Amherst scientists initially gathered ingredients from their own labs to produce the viral transport medium, which protects the patient’s testing sample from degradation.

“Viral transport medium is an isotonic mixture of salts and minerals, as well as serum proteins designed to stabilize the virus in the patient sample until testing can be done. It also includes antibiotics to inhibit yeast or bacterial growth, which can interfere with the test and destroy the patient’s sample,” said Michael Daley of the Cell Culture Core Facility at the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), which is spearheading a broad COVID-19 response effort at UMass Amherst.

“The creation of these virtual COVID-19 response teams has proven to be an effective way to rapidly address regional healthcare shortages, even in a time of social distancing,” noted Peter Reinhart, founding director of IALS, whose mission is to translate fundamental research into innovations that benefit humankind.

In a whirlwind of activity after Reinhart sought out UMass Amherst volunteers, a small group of scientists quickly produced some 600 vials of the viral transport media, painstakingly preparing exact proportions, quality-testing the solutions to ensure sterility, printing specialized labels, and affixing them to the vials before University Health Services clinical staff delivered them to two local hospitals.

“Within one week, we had verified and released our first batch,” Daley said. “A lot of credit goes out to everyone involved for us to have been able to pull this off.”

Added James Chambers, director of the Light Microscopy and Cell Culture Core Facilities at IALS, who is overseeing the labeling of the vials, “once the word got out to a few people that we were ramping up production this week, we were inundated with volunteers who want to do something to help with this fight.”

With an efficient process in place, including social-distancing setups in labs where volunteers wear gloves and face shields, the team is ready to speed creation of the viral transport medium. They now have the capacity to make 60 liters and fill 15,000 to 20,000 tubes each week, and are armed with enough supplies to create 120,000 tubes — each representing one COVID-19 diagnostic test.

“We are now at the stage where we are scaling up production and delivery to meet the needs of the frontline workers in our community and across the state,” Daley said.

A key team member is Barbara Osborne, distinguished professor of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, who helped get the project off the ground by providing ingredients from her own lab. She continues to volunteer her time to aliquot, or measure and dispense the medium from a large container into tiny vials, a highly quantitative task being carried out in IALS’ Cell Culture Lab. “This is all being done in one place, and that really is critical for the quality control,” Osborne noted.

She said additional UMass Amherst volunteers are ready to help if the sterile space and personal protective equipment are available. “There are tons of us who know how to make sterile media. I had to tell people to stop volunteering,” she said. “We could easily double the troops we have already enlisted.”

The life-sciences faculty and staff volunteers come from such departments as Biology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Microbiology, and Psychological and Brain Sciences. Other volunteers include IALS administrators and staff, as well as some Ph.D. candidates and one undergraduate.

In addition to Daley, Chambers, and Osborne, team leaders are Rebecca Lawlor, Osborne’s longtime lab technician; Amy Burnside, director of Flow Cytometry and the Animal Imaging Core Facility at IALS, in charge of testing the batches for sterility; and Erin Poulin, lab manager at University Health Services, who handles the delivery of the vials to the hospitals.

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — Medical face masks, which have fallen into short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic, endangering both front-line healthcare workers and their patients, may be safely reused after sterilization, according to initial results from urgent research conducted this week by a UMass Amherst environmental health scientist.

Richard Peltier, a School of Public Health and Health Sciences professor, partnered with Dr. Brian Hollenbeck, chief of Infectious Disease at New England Baptist Hospital in Boston, to test in his lab whether used N95 face masks were still effective at blocking infectious particles after sterilization.

This critical research aimed to address the worldwide shortage of N95 masks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. “As environmental health scientists, we are always looking for opportunities to improve public health,” Peltier says. “These results show that there is no real difference in filtration between a new mask and one that has been sterilized.”

N95 face masks are worn over the mouth and nose and capture particulates in the air. They are designed to be worn once and then discarded. When new, they are very effective at protecting a person from particulates, including droplets that carry infectious agents like COVID-19.

“While these are ordinarily disposable protective devices for medical workers, these are not ordinary times,” he said, “and this science shows that sterilized face masks will protect our healthcare providers who are working under extraordinary conditions.”

Peltier used state-of-the-art pollution instruments and a mannequin head wearing a face mask to measure whether microscopic particles can pass through the mask after it’s sterilized. He carried out the testing in a small chamber, in which he affixed the masks to a mannequin that had a small pipe extending from its mouth. The chamber was flooded with pollution, and air was collected through the mask as if the mannequin were breathing inside a room filled with pollutants.

The air was delivered to analyzers that used lasers to both count and estimate the size of millions of microscopic particles. Peltier switched between measuring the air from the chamber and the air from behind the mask to calculate how many particles passed through each mask type. He tested both a new mask, as well as one that had been sterilized with hydrogen peroxide.

While there was concern that sterilization might substantially degrade the filter material, causing it to function improperly, this turned out not to be the case. “They work just as well after sterilization,” he said.

Ordinarily, Peltier would repeat the test dozens of times, but the hospital in Boston could not spare additional masks, which, once tested, were unusable. “We are no longer under ordinary circumstances, and we have to improvise as best we can,” he noted.

Because the particulates blocked by the face mask are retained by the mask, they must be sterilized if not thrown away, he explained. “A used mask could have COVID-19 on it, so reusing it without sterilization poses a danger to the wearer or to another patient.”

COVID-19 Daily News

AMHERST — A UMass Amherst biostatistician who directs the UMass-based Flu Forecasting Center of Excellence was invited by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to participate in today’s coronavirus modeling webinar.

The four-hour, virtual gathering includes 20 of the world’s leading infectious-disease and pandemic forecasting modelers, from researchers at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. to those based at institutions in England, Hong Kong, South Africa, and the Netherlands.

According to White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr. Charles Vitek, “this webinar is designed to highlight for the task force what modeling can tell us regarding the potential effects of mitigation measures on the coronavirus outbreak. The unprecedented speed and impact of the COVID-19 epidemic requires the best-informed public-health decision making we can produce.”

Nicholas Reich, associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst, heads a flu-forecasting collaborative that has produced some of the world’s most accurate models in recent years. He and postdoctoral researcher Thomas McAndrew have been conducting weekly surveys of more than 20 infectious-disease-modeling researchers to assess their collective expert opinion on the trajectory of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. The researchers and modeling experts design, build, and interpret models to explain and understand infectious-disease dynamics and the associated policy implications in human populations.

Reich is co-author of a new study in Annals of Internal Medicine that calculates that the median incubation period for COVID-19 is just over five days and that 97.5% of people who develop symptoms will do so within 11.5 days of infection. The incubation period refers to the time between exposure to the virus and the appearance of the first symptoms.

The study’s lead author is UMass Amherst biostatistics doctoral alumnus Stephen Lauer, a former member of the Reich Lab and current postdoctoral researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 

The researchers examined 181 confirmed cases with identifiable exposure and symptom-onset windows to estimate the incubation period of COVID-19. They conclude that “the current period of active monitoring recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [14 days] is well supported by the evidence.”

Last fall, Reich received a grant of up to $3 million over the next five years from the CDC to operate the Flu Forecasting Center of Excellence at UMass Amherst, one of two in the nation the CDC has designated. The center’s mission is to identify new methods and data sources to sharpen the accuracy and improve communication of seasonal and pandemic flu forecasts. 

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