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Keep Moving Forward

Peter Reinhart

Peter Reinhart calls the grant “an unprecedented opportunity to build a sustainable innovation engine.”


A team from UMass Amherst recently won a $5.5 million Accelerating Research Translation (ART) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support and expand faculty and student researchers’ efforts to translate research conducted in campus laboratories into tangible solutions to real-world problems.

The UMass team, which includes the Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS), the Technology Transfer Office, the Office of Research & Engagement, and the Office of the Provost, is one of only 18 nationwide announced in the program’s inaugural year. It is the only award made in New England, and one of just three in the Northeast.

“NSF endeavors to empower academic institutions to build the pathways and structures needed to speed and scale their research into products and services that benefit the nation,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said, adding that the ART program “identifies and champions institutions positioned to expand their research-translation capacity by investing in activities essential to move results to practice.”

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes noted that “the resources and nationwide network that this award brings to the campus will open new opportunities for our researchers to make a positive impact on society and will strengthen their ability to contribute to economic development in the region and beyond.”

Provost Mike Malone added that “receiving ART funding from NSF is a vote of confidence in the excellence of campus researchers and the potential for their work to translate into products, spinout ventures, and social enterprises that solve important real-world problems.”

Each ART awardee will benefit from a partnership with a mentoring institution of higher education that already has a robust ecosystem for translational research. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will serve in that role for UMass. As such, the UMass Amherst team will be able to take advantage of MIT’s research-translation prowess to develop individual faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate-student researchers, as well as its knowhow in the development of new startup companies.

“The project will equip diverse groups of scientists and engineers, from undergraduates to senior faculty, with skills to extend research excellence toward impactful translational outcomes.”

Roman Lubynsky, executive director of the New England Regional Innovation Node at MIT, has already begun to work with the UMass team as lead mentor, noting that “the IHE mentor role provides an ideal opportunity for us to build upon and expand our ongoing relationship with UMass Amherst, including facilitating access to and adaptation of best practices from across MIT’s translational enterprise.”


Seeking Impact

The four-year award will fund seed translational research projects, training to prepare postdoctoral fellows and graduate students for careers related to translational research, and a network of ART ambassadors, who will serve as role models, peer mentors, and advocates for societally impactful translational research.

In addition, UMass Amherst’s ART ambassadors will be part of a nationwide network of ART ambassadors from all funded institutions. Diverse, equitable, and inclusive efforts will prioritize and champion the involvement of members of traditionally underrepresented groups in every aspect of the project.

“This award provides the campus with an unprecedented opportunity to build a sustainable innovation engine that will prepare students and faculty to contribute to the innovation economy, shorten timelines between ideation and de-risked technologies, and result in enterprises that include diverse leaders in the development of technologies to address important societal needs,” said Peter Reinhart, founding director of IALS. “The project will equip diverse groups of scientists and engineers, from undergraduates to senior faculty, with skills to extend research excellence toward impactful translational outcomes.”

Reinhart will serve as the grant’s principal investigator. Co-principal investigators include Provost Mike Malone; Burnley Jaklevic, director of the UMass Amherst Technology Transfer Office; and Karen Utgoff, director of IALS Venture Development. Partner organizations include MassVentures, the Berkshire Innovation Center, Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives, and Somerville-based innovation accelerator FORGE.

According to the National Science Foundation, more than $100 million was awarded to the 18 teams. Each awardee will receive up to $6 million over four years to identify and build upon academic research with the potential for technology transfer and societal and economic impacts, to ensure availability of staff with technology-transfer expertise, and to support the education and training of entrepreneurial faculty and students.

“Congratulations to the IALS team and the UMass Amherst campus on this significant award,” said Jeanne LeClair, vice president of Economic Development & Partnerships for the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. “The center is incredibly proud of its significant investments in IALS as an anchor institution of our burgeoning Western Massachusetts life-sciences cluster. This award will only further spur innovation, translational research, and entrepreneurship for the region and our Commonwealth.”

Massachusetts Secretary for Economic Development Yvonne Hao added that “this ART award will help to grow the innovation economy in Western Massachusetts. The region has a lot to offer talented people who want to create new businesses, expand them, and to really succeed and thrive here.”


More Successes for IALS

The ART announcement came on the heels of two IALS core facilities receiving sophisticated microscopy instruments — the first such instruments to be located in Western Mass. — through grants totaling more than $3.2 million from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC).

The UMass Amherst grants are included in a funding package of more than $30.5 million to support life-sciences innovation, workforce, and STEM education across Massachusetts.

The first award of $1,655,774 will fund the IALS Electron Microscope facility’s purchase of a cryo-transmission electron microscope, technology that the microscopy facility did not possess, and which will be the first to be located in Western Mass., according to facility director Alexander Ribbe.

The second award, $1,555,276, will allow the Light Microscopy facility, under the direction of James Chambers, to purchase technology that was missing from its imaging portfolio, expanding light microscopy offerings for biomedical training and research at UMass Amherst and beyond.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst has been recognized by the U.S. Department of State as a Fulbright Top Producing Institution — one of the nation’s universities with the highest number of students, faculty, and administrators selected for the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student and Fulbright U.S. Scholar programs for the 2023-24 academic year.

Out of the 170 colleges and universities recognized overall, UMass Amherst is one of only 12 institutions recognized for both the Fulbright U.S. Student Program and the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program this year. It is the only institution in Massachusetts — and one of only three in New England — to receive this distinction.

This is the fifth time UMass Amherst has been recognized as a Fulbright Top Producing Institution for U.S. Students since the project began in 2009-10, and the third time as a Fulbright Top Producing Institution for U.S. Scholars.

Student applicants to Fulbright at UMass Amherst are supported by the Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA) within the Commonwealth Honors College. Madalina Akli, director of ONSA and the International Scholars Program, and Mujtaba Hedayet, ONSA academic and scholarship advisor, work together and lead a faculty committee who support UMass Amherst students applying to the program. Students receive advising and application support that are inclusive of diverse students, honors and non-honors students, first-generation students, transfer students, and students on Pell Grant.

“Our Fulbright awardees represent the university with professionalism and confidence in the education received at UMass Amherst, which thoroughly prepared them to lead in the world using the research and leadership skills acquired here,” Akli said. “They equally inspire their peers to apply for Fulbrights and show that receiving an international scholarship is possible and realistic. They advance our international reputation as a top public university that thrives on academic and inclusive excellence.”

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst’s online education programs have been recognized as among the best in the nation in U.S. News and World Report’s 2024 rankings. Placing second among public and private colleges and universities was the Isenberg School of Management’s online undergraduate program in business.

Overall, UMass Amherst’s online bachelor’s degree programs placed 20th out of 339 public and private colleges and universities and is the only New England institution in the top 20. Among UMass Amherst’s online bachelor’s degree programs represented are business administration, nursing, sociology, sustainable food and farming, hospitality and tourism management, and many programs in the University Without Walls’ Department of Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS).

For 2024, U.S. News and World Report assessed more than 1,750 online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs and ranked 1,680 accredited higher-education institutions. The rankings were released on Feb. 7.

“We’re proud to be among today’s leaders in online education. We will continue to champion innovation in learning by offering personalized, interdisciplinary, student-centric programs for all learners in a very dynamic marketplace,” UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes said. “These latest U.S. News rankings reflect UMass Amherst’s commitment to providing access to our outstanding programs in a flexible manner, meeting students where they are so they can pursue their academic and professional goals.”

The Isenberg School of Management bachelor’s degree in business stepped up one spot from last year to number 2, surpassing Arizona State University, Oregon State University and Pennsylvania State University – World Campus, which all placed in a three-way tie for third.

In master’s business programs, UMass Amherst moved up three spots from last year to number 6, tying with Boston University and Rutgers University, in the survey among non-MBA online business graduate degrees. Isenberg’s MBA program stayed at number 12, a ranking it has held for the past three years.

“It’s wonderful that our groundbreaking online MBA program continues to be a leader in this fast-growing space and provide today’s students with career-building skills and learning experiences,” said Anne Massey, dean of the Isenberg School of Management.

In other U.S. News online graduate program assessments, the Elaine Marieb School of Nursing moved up to number 12 out of 186 ranked programs. Notably, UMass Amherst’s master’s in nursing was also the only Massachusetts program ranked in the top 30.

UMass Amherst’s online programs also ranked in the top 15 for their support of veterans, with the Isenberg master’s in business excluding MBA (fourth), online MBA (11th), and overall bachelor’s degree programs (13th) leading the survey.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst has been selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to establish and lead the Academic Center for Reliability and Resilience of Offshore Wind (ARROW), a new, multi-million-dollar national center of excellence to accelerate reliable and equitable offshore wind-energy deployment across the nation and produce a well-educated domestic offshore wind workforce.

Led by UMass Amherst with approximately 40 partners, ARROW will receive $4.75 million over five years from the the DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office and has also received a matching commitment of $4.75 million from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The state of Maryland, the second center of gravity of the proposal with participation from Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University, is contributing $1 million from the Maryland Energy Administration. Other universities are contributing $1.4 million for a total budget of $11.9 million.

Sanjay Arwade, professor of Civil Engineering at UMass Amherst, is director of the new center, with faculty in the university’s Wind Energy Center serving as co-principal investigators and senior personnel of the research team.

“We at UMass Amherst and the Wind Energy Center are honored to be recognized by DOE with this award,” Arwade said. “With the entire extraordinary ARROW team, we’re excited to build upon 50 years of achievement in wind-energy research and education and move the nation toward a clean and renewable energy future.”

The center will be a university-led education, research, and outreach program for offshore wind that prioritizes energy equity and principles of workforce diversity, equity, inclusion, and access. With technical specialization in the reliability and resilience of offshore wind infrastructure, transmission, and supply chain, ARROW has three key goals:

• Empower the next generation of U.S.-based offshore wind professionals. Not only does this include training for offshore wind professionals, but it will also enhance the ability of U.S. institutions to deliver comprehensive offshore wind education and establish global leadership in offshore wind education. The center will advance the education of 1,000 students over the initial five-year life of the center.

• Innovate with impactful research for a reliable and resilient offshore wind system built on rigorous treatment of uncertainty. Research will focus on infrastructure, atmospheric and ocean conditions, and marine and human ecology.

• Engage with communities to get input from the wide diversity of stakeholders who make up the offshore wind ecosystem. This includes wind-energy companies, grid operators, manufacturers, nonprofits, insurance companies, and advanced technology developers in order to arrive at inclusive and just deployment of offshore wind solutions.

This academic and training hub will help drive progress toward the Biden-Harris administration’s national goals of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, a 100% clean electricity grid by 2035, and net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050.

“Offshore wind can play a major role in decarbonizing the U.S. electric grid, and meeting its potential will require skilled workers to propel us forward,” said Jeff Marootian, principal deputy assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “This consortium will provide timely and relevant training and education to help foster the domestic offshore wind workforce of tomorrow and secure a clean energy future for all Americans.”

ARROW comprises eight universities, three national laboratories, two state-level energy offices, and many industry and stakeholder groups in other areas of Massachusetts as well as Illinois, Maryland, Washington, South Carolina, and Puerto Rico.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst rose to the top 20 among higher-education institutions in the nation for its social and environmental sustainability development efforts, education, and practices, according to QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2024 edition.

In the expanded second edition, published by global higher-education analyst firm Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), UMass Amherst rose to 16th out of 210 colleges and universities in the U.S., up from 28th in last year’s ranking that highlighted 135 U.S. institutions.

In the overall global sustainability rankings, UMass Amherst rose to the top 10% (136th) among 1,403 institutions across 95 countries and territories, which is more than double the number of institutions featured in last year’s inaugural edition.

The ranking provides a unique, detailed framework to assess how universities are taking action to tackle the world’s most pressing global challenges through evaluation of universities based on three areas: social impact, environmental impact, and governance. UMass Amherst also scored well above the global median in each of these areas.

“It’s good to see our accomplishments recognized at the global scale through this ranking,” UMass Amherst Sustainability Manager Ezra Small said. “I hope this helps attract more young, bright minds from around the globe who can come study here and help us continue to solve these pressing challenges by using our campus as a sustainable learning laboratory.”

Jessica Turner, QS CEO, highlighted the role of the QS sustainability rankings as a cutting-edge tool for gauging the progress and collaborative efforts of universities globally in tackling pressing existential challenges, and noted the increasing importance of these considerations for prospective students.

“Our 2023 sustainability survey revealed a striking trend: 79% of prospective international students view an institution’s sustainability practices as extremely or very important,” Turner said. “Additionally, 82% actively seek information on these practices while researching universities. This demonstrates a clear shift in priorities among today’s students, who are increasingly weighing the social and environmental impact of their future alma mater alongside academic excellence.”

This latest QS Sustainability Ranking adds to UMass Amherst’s sustainability accolades this year. In November, UMass Amherst moved up 10 spots to 18th in Princeton Review’s Top 50 Green Colleges.

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

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

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 193: December 26, 2023

George O’Brien Interviews with Garett DiStefano, director of Dining Services at UMass Amherst

Garret DiStefano likes to say that he’s the CFO — that’s chief food officer — at UMass Dining, which has been named the best program in the country eight years running by the Princeton Review. On the next episode of BusinessTalk, contributing writer George O’Brien talks with DiStefano about the many ingredients that go into not just a successful program, but the best program in the country. And also about what it takes to not simply reach the top — something that’s hard enough given the high level of competition from schools across the country — but what it takes to stay there year after year. It’s all must listening, so tune in to BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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Daily News

AMHERST — A team of researchers at UMass Amherst has developed the first dual-color optoelectronic neural probe. Unlike previous, single-color probes, which often control brain activity in only one direction — excitation or inhibition, but not both — this new design can enhance and silence the electrical activities of the same neurons within specific cortical layers of the brain. It promises to aid the investigation of tightly packed neural microcircuits within the cortex and deep-brain regions and, in the longer term, add to the functional mapping of the brain.

Guangyu Xu, assistant associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, appointee of the Dev and Linda Gupta Professorship at UMass Amherst, and principal investigator of the study, hopes the device can ultimately help researchers identify the origin of brain diseases.

The device is based on optogenetics, a method to control neural activity using light, Xu explained. “We are able to send one of two colors of light — red or blue — to the brain to let neurons within each cortical layer become more active or more silent, as you can tell from electrical neural recording signals. This capability, namely bidirectional optogenetic electrophysiology, will lend itself to high-resolution interrogation of the brain circuitry and shed light on animal disease models.”

He added that bidirectional control is a crucial feature for advancing the understanding of diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. “For instance, with epilepsy, you may need to silence certain regions of the brain, not to activate them. That requirement is one of our motivations in building such dual-color devices. The second color on the probe adds flexibility in optical control over the brain.”

Building such devices is not trivial, requiring different optoelectronic materials to be packed into a small footprint — less than a millimeter in size — with low crosstalk to each other. “We developed a high-yield integration approach in this work,” Xu said.

Published in Cell Reports Physical Science, this work marks the first preliminary test of this technology, showcasing the power of the device to provide a high spatial resolution and bidirectional control of the brain in mice.

“What we did on mice is turn on those blue or red LEDs to shut off or turn on the same local brain circuits,” Xu said, “and this spatial resolution comes down to specific cortical layers, which has been suggested in the recording traces.”

He anticipates that future research will extend to testing the device on other parts of the body, possibly outside the brain.

Workforce Development

Expanding the Talent Pipeline

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes

UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes speaks during the announcement of the $5 million grant from the MassTech Collaborative.

Leaders from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, also known as MassTech, recently announced a $5 million award from the Healey-Driscoll administration to UMass Amherst to help create an open-access additive manufacturing and design/testing facility on campus.

The grant, from the Collaborative Research and Development (R&D) Matching Grant Program, will augment UMass Amherst’s capabilities in the advanced-manufacturing space and increase its collaboration with universities across Massachusetts around research and development for advanced optical technologies, which have applications in biotechnology, defense, aerospace, environmental monitoring, and general electronics.

“The Healey-Driscoll administration is committed to building a more dynamic manufacturing ecosystem by supporting research and development opportunities across the state,” said Secretary Yvonne Hao of the Executive Office of Economic Development. “This investment will help connect leading innovators, foster workforce opportunities, promote creative problem solving, and accelerate the potential for breakthroughs in a field that underpins so many other essential industries.”

Carolyn Kirk, executive director of MassTech, added that “this investment is another example of Massachusetts’ commitment to strengthening innovative technologies and making R&D tools more accessible to growing businesses, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs across the state, providing opportunities that would normally be cost-prohibitive. Placing it at our flagship university, which has a track record of proven success and partnerships in the advanced-manufacturing space, made perfect sense. When we invest in technical training at a leading institution like this, we can expand training opportunities and the talent pipeline to manufacturing careers, helping diversify our workforce and the ability of the state to compete on a global scale.”

The announcement comes on the heels of the state’s recent award of $19.7 million in funding through the federal CHIPS and Science Act to expand production of microelectronics in the Northeast, work that will benefit from increased R&D in related sectors, including advanced optical technologies.

“We’re proud to make this investment in UMass Amherst to help establish a first-of-its-kind open-access facility that will expand our capability for innovation and strengthen training opportunities in a sector that will be so critical to the future of our economy.”

“Optical technologies are essential in the 21st century, acting as the backbone for transformational industries ranging from semiconductors to mobile technologies, medicine to national defense,” said Pat Larkin, director of the Innovation Institute at MassTech, which manages the collaborative R&D grant program. “That’s why it is critically important to expand collaboration and partnerships in this space, to encourage increased engagement between research institutions and private industry. We’re proud to make this investment in UMass Amherst to help establish a first-of-its-kind open-access facility that will expand our capability for innovation and strengthen training opportunities in a sector that will be so critical to the future of our economy.”

The facility will be the first publicly accessible facility of its kind in the country and will support testing, research, and production of advanced optical technologies. Through the project, UMass Amherst will collaborate with Electro Magnetic Applications Inc. (EMA), which specializes in the testing and design of materials used in space and operates at the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) in Pittsfield, and other industry partners, as well as Northeastern University, Springfield Technical Community College, and Berkshire Community College. The BIC will act as a bridge between industry, academia, and government to help develop an additive-manufacturing talent pipeline by providing workforce-development opportunities for students and young professionals.

“For 160 years, UMass Amherst has been an incubator for revolutionary thinking and big ideas,” UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes said. “Today we further this legacy as we celebrate advancements in precision optics, coatings, and metalens technologies in Western Mass. and prepare to establish an advanced optics manufacturing and characterization facility right here at UMass. By bringing together leading scientists, engineers, researchers, and industry partners, this new facility will accelerate the development and adoption of these transformative technologies.”

UMass Amherst will also use the grant to fund a full wafer imprint tool, which is a low-cost, high-resolution, nano-imprinting lithography device that generates patterns for various applications, a technology that is not currently available in any public facility in the U.S. This investment will provide a singular opportunity for research and collaboration for companies and institutions in Massachusetts.

“The state of Massachusetts and MassTech continue to prioritize investing in critical technologies and capabilities within the Commonwealth,” said Justin McKennon, principal scientist ii and the co-principal investigator for this project on behalf of EMA. “It sets the state apart as a place that not only welcomes, but believes in the companies that reside here. At EMA, we understand that any new technology requires the ability demonstrate it can work in harsh environments, and with our test and simulation capabilities, we are beyond excited to play a key role in helping companies in and around the Commonwealth to prove out their technologies in space and other harsh environments.”

The Collaborative R&D Matching Grant Program has awarded nearly $60 million to projects across the state that have leveraged more than $180 million in matching contributions from project partners. This includes 20 projects that have supported innovative industry and academic collaborations and investments in novel R&D infrastructure to bolster the Massachusetts tech and innovation economy.

The grant program has supported projects in emerging industries such as cloud computing, quantum computing, marine robotics, printed electronics, cybersecurity and data science, and nanomaterials and smart sensors. These investments have led to more than 80 industry partnerships and 60 intellectual-property and licensing agreements in the past two years.


Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — UMass Amherst and American International College (AIC) signed an agreement allowing AIC to use clinical simulation laboratories and classrooms at the UMass Amherst Center at Springfield following a fire on the AIC campus in July. The agreement will assist AIC nursing students in continuing their education uninterrupted as repairs are made to AIC’s health-sciences facilities.

“As an institution that is deeply committed to Western Massachusetts and Springfield and to our partner institutions, we recognized the urgency of not only helping AIC nursing students continue their studies, but also addressing the need for primary caregivers amid the ongoing nursing shortage,” UMass Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes said. “This is about neighbor helping neighbor in a time of need — and meeting the workforce needs of our region, especially in an area as critical to the Commonwealth as nursing.”

The July 27 fire on AIC’s campus in Springfield, sparked by a lightning strike, caused extensive damage to Courniotes Hall, which houses the college’s nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and public health programs.

“After the destruction of Courniotes Hall, AIC swiftly reaccommodated classroom and office space for faculty on the AIC campus. However, rebuilding simulation labs with just a few weeks before the start of the semester would not have been possible,” AIC President Hubert Benitez said. “We are tremendously grateful for the outpouring of support shown by the community at large, including the generosity of UMass in helping us secure this critical space. This partnership enabled the college to move forward quickly while allowing our nursing students to continue their studies uninterrupted.”

Under the agreement, the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing at UMass Amherst and AIC’s nursing program have developed a schedule to share instruction space at Tower Square in downtown Springfield through May 2024. This fall, more than 50 AIC students have used the facilities for instruction, assessments, and other activities.

Daily News

AMHERST — UMass Amherst has appointed Lidya Rivera-Early to the newly created position of executive director of Government Relations and Springfield Partnerships.

Rivera-Early brings more than 25 years of leadership, development, and managerial experience to the position, most recently as director of Community Engagement at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). She will draw on her established relationships in the public and private sectors to serve as liaison between UMass Amherst and the city of Springfield.

Based at the UMass Amherst Center at Springfield, located at Tower Square, the new position was created to enhance the Springfield-UMass partnership, which is built on a commitment to cultural and economic equality and opportunity. Rivera-Early will work with legislators, city officials, the business community, nonprofit leaders, and university colleagues to connect UMass Amherst’s academic, research, and economic-development mandates with the city of Springfield. This includes cultivating relationships with community stakeholders, developing and strengthening partnerships with regional business executives, and identifying state and federal resources to support the partnership’s strategic goals.

At STCC, Rivera-Early served in various roles over the past decade, working to deepen relationships with community partners and collaborating across campus and with outside organizations on educational and career-development initiatives. She also served as a liaison between college departments and regional and statewide stakeholders and represented the college on various boards and in the community.

Prior to her role at STCC, she was Section 3 program manager for the city of Springfield, where she was responsible for administrative and technical duties managing, coordinating, and administering the city’s Section 3 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Previously, she served as grants coordinator/manager for the Springfield Housing Authority, overseeing all grant-funded programs for the agency.

Rivera-Early received a bachelor’s degree in human services and a master’s degree in organizational management and leadership in human services from Springfield College. She is a graduate of Leadership Pioneer Valley and is the recipient of several notable awards and honors, including the Massachusetts Latina Excellence Award. She serves on the boards of a number of community organizations, including the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley and the newly formed Dora D. Robinson Women’s Leadership Council.




UMass Amherst graduates from a generation or two ago — and there are a great many still living and working in this region — will recall that the food served on campus was largely the subject of derision and ridicule.

Like the football team is now — although that’s another story for another day.

This one is about what has happened to UMass Dining over the past quarter-century or so. It has made the talk of bland, unimaginative food of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s the stuff of seemingly ancient history, which it is. And, like the school’s marching band, it has become a symbol of excellence and pride, and an inspiration to other schools and other programs at the state’s flagship university.

As this issue’s cover story notes, UMass Dining is on a winning streak for the ages. The program has made UMass Amherst the top school for campus dining for seven years running in the respected Princeton Review. But the story isn’t about the hardware — it’s about what it takes to win all that hardware.

And that’s a lengthy list — everything from quality food, obviously, to authenticity to comprehensive efforts to not only gather feedback from various constituencies, especially students, but listen and respond to that feedback in ways that yield continuous improvement and, yes, more top rankings in Princeton Review.

As anyone in business, or even professional or college sports, knows, getting to the top is one thing. Staying on top, especially when you’re sharing best practices with anyone who asks — which is what the team at UMass Dining does — is much more difficult.

Speaking of business, those working in just about every sector of the economy can take some invaluable lessons from UMass Dining, about everything from a commitment to excellence to what it means to serve a truly diverse audience and fully respect that diversity, to how to proactively respond to those who are being served.

What they do isn’t rocket science — they prepare and serve meals every day. But the attention to detail, the commitment to excellence, and the level of teamwork that goes into the day-to-day operations is extraordinary.

The dramatic change in operations — and quality — at UMass Amherst began with the arrival of Ken Toong, the executive director of Auxiliary Services at the university, which oversees the dining operation, in the late ’90s. He established a culture of excellence, maintained that culture of excellence, and embedded it into every operation and every meal served there — 8 million annually, by some estimates.

This is a story of teamwork and top-down commitment to doing not just a good job, but the best job possible, every single day.

In that respect, UMass Dining isn’t just a department at the university — one that has been the best in the nation for nearly a decade. It’s a model to be emulated.


Degrees of Progress


John Wells, left, and Joe Bartolomeo

John Wells, left, and Joe Bartolomeo say UWW continues to expand and evolve while remaining true to a mission forged more than a half-century ago.

The University Without Walls program at UMass Amherst, or simply UWW, as it’s known to so many, last year marked its 50th anniversary of changing lives at a ceremony at the Old Chapel on the UMass campus.

And there was certainly much to celebrate.

Indeed, while the world of higher education, the world of work, and UWW, for that matter, have changed in profound ways since the early ’70s, the program’s basic mission, and reason for being, have not. It exists to help non-traditional students (and they come in many categories and with diverse needs) earn degrees, certificates, or even a few credits that can help them advance professionally and perhaps take their careers in a different direction.

As it has carried out that broad mission, UWW has been defined by two words that speak volumes about what it’s all about: accessibility and flexibility. And both are keys to those non-traditional students getting to where they want to go, said John Wells, senior vice provost for Lifeline Learning at UMass Amherst.

The accessibility comes in many forms, from the ease of entry into programs to the availability of courses online — in this case, decades before COVID made it standard operating procedure. The flexibility, meanwhile, also comes in different forms, but especially the ability to shape degrees to fit specific needs.

While the mission and some of the basic programs haven’t changed much since Richard Nixon was patrolling the White House, UWW has certainly evolved and expanded to meet the needs of non-traditional students, fill gaps, and go well beyond the degree-completion programs for which it is most known.

“Not only is it a non-traditional home, it’s also an innovative home for looking for new ways to educate. And that’s one thing that UWW is — it’s an incubator for change and innovation.”

“Instead of just adult degree-completion programs, UWW offers pre-college and professional programs,” said Wells. “We felt like we could provide a legitimate academic home for students who weren’t coming down that traditional pathway.

“And not only is it a non-traditional home, it’s also an innovative home for looking for new ways to educate,” he went on. “And that’s one thing that UWW is — it’s an incubator for change and innovation.”

Joe Bartolomeo, associate provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at UMass Amherst and also a professor of English, agreed.

He said UWW’s degree-completion offering, the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies, remains its flagship program. But it now also offers what’s known as a BDIC, or bachelor’s degree with individual concentration, which is for residential undergrads, he noted, “but residential undergrads who don’t want to follow a traditional major path — they want to create their own degree to best reflect their own interests and goals.”

There is also an IT program, a minor program that now boasts more than 500 students, as well as other IT-related initiatives, such as a computer-competency course and a public-interest technology certificate; an ‘interdisciplinary exploratory track’ for incoming UMass students who haven’t decided on a major or think they might want to pursue an interdisciplinary track; pre-college; professional development; summer programs; and more.

For this entry in BusinessWest’s ongoing series exploring professional-development programs at area colleges and universities, we take an in-depth look at UWW, its long history of excellence, and its ongoing tradition of expansion and evolution to meet the changing needs of students — and the region.


Grade Expectations

A snapshot of those in attendance at the 50th-anniversary celebration, delayed a year because of the pandemic, helps convey how this aptly named program has provided students at all stages of life with flexible learning opportunities and a chance to turn their work experience into credits toward a degree. Current and former mayors of area communities who attended UWW were on hand, as was Kate Hogan, speaker pro tempore of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, another alum, and business owners and managers from across the broad spectrum of the regional economy.

Tracing the history of UWW, Bartolomeo said it was created to help adults who had started college but not finished their degrees. At the heart of the program is the ability of students to take their work experience and convert it into college credits to be put toward a degree — in some cases, dozens of credits, thus expediting their degree-completion work.

At present, there are roughly 200 students in the BDIC program and another 500 in Interdisciplinary Studies, said Bartolomeo, adding that they are pursuing degrees, and minors, in many different areas.

“A lot of them work in education, many of them work in social work, a lot are in business and economics,” he noted. “But they can also create their own, and many of them come to us with considerable experience — they just didn’t finish their degrees.”

Wells agreed, noting that, while some have a specific major, or set of skills, in mind, others don’t, which is fine, because work is changing rapidly, and so are the job market and the skill sets needed to succeed in specific jobs and fields.

In UWW, he said, students are more free from the pressures of declaring a major and, in most respects, have more ability to fine-tune a degree to match their needs.

“In traditional education, there’s always that pressure, or emphasis, on declaring a major and figuring out what you’re studying,” he told BusinessWest. “We like to think of UWW as being a place where it’s OK to say, ‘I’m exploring a little bit more,’ or ‘I have a variety of interests.’

“Today, the world is moving fast enough where it’s hard to define education down to the letter,” he went on. “A lot of times, people are getting a degree, and by the time they’re done, the skills they’re acquired are out of date. We like to think of UWW as an incubator because we need to change our thinking about education, and this has always been a safe space to try things.”

While degree-completion offerings remain the heart of UWW, there are many different programs being offered, everything from summer offerings to graduate-degree programs to professional development.

In that last category, there are a number of non-credit and for-credit professional and continuing-education programs for those looking to gain new skills and knowledge in areas ranging from leadership to music; from writing to turf management.

“A lot of times, people are getting a degree, and by the time they’re done, the skills they’re acquired are out of date. We like to think of UWW as an incubator because we need to change our thinking about education, and this has always been a safe space to try things.”

Indeed, the UMass Winter School for Turf Managers, which was established in 1927 and was the first program of its kind, continues today, and is a top source for turf-industry professionals.

Meanwhile, as noted earlier, UWW has expanded into other realms beyond degree completion, including pre-college and summer programs, said Bartolomeo, adding that these are designed to help improve students’ chances of succeeding when they get to college.

There are several pre-college initiatives, including summer programs; ‘research intensives’ — six-week, immersive lab experiences alongside UMass Amherst research faculty; college-prep workshops, and even a week-long College Application Bootcamp.

Another related initiative is called Jump In, a summer program for newly admitted UMass students who want to get a jump on their college education, Wells noted, adding that they take a course online — a general-education course, an introductory major course, and/or a ‘student success’ course.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get a head start and see what a college course is like,” he explained, adding that more than 100 signed up for classes this past summer.

At the same time, and in keeping with that notion of UWW being an incubator, the university is using it to test-drive concepts and even proposed degree programs.

As an example, he cited a certificate program called Innovate, which, as that name suggests, is focused on innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Most of the professional schools are contributing courses to that, and it was originated by faculty in Engineering,” he explained. “But they didn’t want it to reside in one of the traditional STEM colleges because they wanted it to be open to students around campus. The provost’s office referred them our way, and we’re going to provide it with an academic home.”

Another example is called Commonwealth Collegiate Academy, a systemwide initiative for dual enrollment for high-school students, he said, explaining that this is different from pre-college and focuses specifically on public high schools that tend to be underresourced and have larger underrepresented, minority populations.

“It’s an opportunity for them to take courses live, online, during their school day,” Wells explained. “And we’re working now with various high schools on plans to start it next year; this is a priority of the president’s office, and even the governor’s office.”


Bottom Line

And it’s yet another example of how UWW continues to evolve and broaden the mission that it took on more than 50 years ago.

Those letters have become part of the academic landscape in Western Mass. — and well beyond. And, more importantly, they connote pathways (in the plural, because one size definitely does not fit all) to success in the workplace and in life.

Daily News

AMHERST — Researchers at UMass Amherst’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS) and Embr Labs have created a machine-learning algorithm to predict a hot flash before a person perceives it. When combined with Embr Labs’ patented wearable device, Embr Wave, immediate cooling is delivered to mitigate or fully alleviate the event.

This first-of-its-kind predictive algorithm is the result of machine learning being applied to the largest data set of digital biomarkers for hot flashes ever collected, which was generated by researchers at UMass Amherst’s Center for Human Health and Performance.

“Hot flashes occur in 75% of women and can persist for up to a decade,” said Matt Smith, co-founder and chief technology officer of Embr Labs. “We are proud to be developing effective tools for menopause, which has lacked new solutions for too long. By delivering automatic cooling for hot-flash relief, we are realizing the holy grail for natural hot-flash management.”

Unlike previous attempts to combat hot flashes, this is a non-pharmaceutical approach. The current generation of the Embr Wave is worn on the inside of the wearer’s wrist and heats or cools at the touch of a button to elicit a brain and body response that can help with resolving hot flashes, improving sleep, and relieving stress. The new predictive sensor technology will be commercialized in an upcoming generation of Embr Wave.

“Seeking immediate cooling relief is a person’s natural reaction when they are having a hot flash,” Smith said. “We now have the know-how and technology to bring this solution into the 21st century: personalized and automatic hot-flash management from a small, AI-powered, wearable device.”

The technology is fundamentally different from most other wearable health technologies, such as activity trackers, added Mike Busa, director of the IALS Center for Human Health and Performance. “This concept of automatic intervention based on real-time physiological symptoms is relatively unexplored. What has dominated the landscape up to this point is only tracking — letting you know the status of something or letting a care team know that a certain phenomenon has occurred. That technology most certainly has its strengths, but a major limitation is that it does not provide real-time, automated intervention to the person who is dealing with impactful symptoms.”

Instead, Busa describes the new system as a “reactive digital drug” for hot-flash symptoms. “The solution is not quite so simple as hot plus cold equals neutral. In this case, we leverage early physiological changes that precede a person’s perception of an oncoming hot flash and provide early relief that aims to automatically deploy an intervention tailored to minimize the disturbance of the hot-flash symptoms.”

It all happens in real time, he noted. “The device is communicating the data to servers and back to the device in a fraction of a second. That’s the power of data and cloud computing combined with the immediate cooling made possible by Embr Labs’ thermal technology.”

The technology was made possible by grants from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and the National Science Foundation.

Embr Labs was recently awarded a patent for the utilization of biomarkers to activate cooling for hot flashes, and an additional patent has been filed for features powering the corresponding predictive algorithms. A manuscript is in preparation that will benchmark the performance of the predictive algorithms and reveal the science behind hot-flash prediction. Embr Labs recently announced a $35 million financing round to support market expansion and new product development.

This is the second collaboration between Embr Labs and UMass Amherst. Previously, Rebecca Spencer from the Sleep Monitoring Core at IALS and Department of Psychology conducted a pilot study, and the results were presented at the 2022 North American Menopause Society. That study found that use of the Embr Wave was associated with improved sleep, reduction in self-reported frequency and intensity of hot flashes, and improvement in the impact of stress.

Daily News

AMHERST — For the seventh consecutive time, UMass Amherst has earned the top spot for Best Campus Food in annual rankings published by the Princeton Review.

The rankings are derived from student reports of their experiences at the schools in its annual “Best Colleges” guidebook. The 2024 rankings are based on feedback from 165,000 students at the schools in the guide.

UMass Dining, the largest collegiate dining program in the U.S., is committed to providing the campus community with locally sourced, healthy, sustainable, and globally inspired cuisine, and its leadership believes in helping to build community through food.

“I’m extremely proud of our dedicated, talented, and hardworking team, whose commitment to excellence has been instrumental in our continued success,” said Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises, which includes UMass Dining. “We’re immensely grateful for our students, faculty, staff, and entire UMass administration for their support and invaluable feedback, which has contributed to shaping and enriching the quality-of-life experience. Without them, we would not have been able to achieve this remarkable feat. Their dedication and enthusiasm inspire us to continuously raise the bar and deliver exceptional dining experiences, one meal at a time.”

Toong also extended his gratitude to Chancellor Javier Reyes, Vice Chancellor Andrew Mangels, and former Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy for their leadership and continued support, which have been instrumental in UMass Amherst’s journey to culinary excellence.

“Congratulations to the entire UMass Dining team for this incredible achievement,” Mangels said. “This recognition is a testament to the great leadership, dedication, and focus on excellence all year long, which provides exceptional culinary experiences.”


Early Connections

The Markens Group

The Markens Group’s iCons summer intern, Bobby Murray (center), with Ben Markens and Emily Leonczyk.

The Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) and the UMass Amherst iCons program, under the umbrella of the iCons Industry Consortium, recently joined forces to provide UMass iCons students with internship and career opportunities in the Western Mass. region.

iCons is a certificate program focused on real-world problem solving in biomedicine/biosystems and renewable energy, catering to students in science, technology, health sciences, engineering, math (STEM), and business. The program engages students in addressing real-world challenges alongside industry partners and faculty members from a range of STEM and business disciplines.

“By bringing together exceptional students and local businesses, this collaboration creates a win-win situation, fostering mutual growth and development.”

Now, with the support of the EDC, UMass iCons students majoring in science, technology, engineering, math, health sciences, and business have access to internship opportunities with local businesses, with the goal of bolstering the regional economy as well as their own experience.

“We’re excited to partner with UMass Amherst to showcase the advantages of living and working in Western Mass.,” said Rick Sullivan, president and CEO of the Western Mass EDC. “ By bringing together exceptional students and local businesses, this collaboration creates a win-win situation, fostering mutual growth and development.”

The iCons program has already successfully placed students in internships at three member organizations of the Western Mass EDC: the Markens Group, US Tsubaki Chicopee, and the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts. These experiences have provided iCons students with valuable exposure to real-world work environments and have allowed them to contribute to the success of local businesses.

The Markens Group recently welcomed Bobby Murray as an iCons summer intern.

“We are thrilled to have Bobby join us at the Markens Group this summer,” said Emily Leonczyk, the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Bobby is taking advantage of the opportunity to cultivate his skills, gain invaluable real-world experience, and lay the foundation for a successful future. Bobby has already added immense value, he is sharp and enthusiastic, and our team is stronger with his contributions. We are dedicated to supporting next-generation talent like Bobby and fostering professional development in our region.”

“This partnership exemplifies our commitment to building community and empowering local talent.”

According to its website, iCons “prepares our best undergraduates to be problem solvers, leaders, and innovators in science, technology, and business. iCons recruits quality students across a diverse range of science, engineering, and business disciplines to identify global problems and find cutting-edge solutions. The iCons program positions students for high achievement in graduate school and in their careers.”

Scott Auerbach, Mahoney Family Sponsored Executive Director of iCons, noted that the program’s mission can be boiled down to three words: “add real value.”

“Our excellent partnership with the Western Mass. Economic Development Council and terrific member organizations like the Markens Group provides powerful opportunities to accomplish this important mission,” he said.

Through this collaboration, the leaders of the Western Massachusetts EDC and the iCons program say they want to pave the way for talented students to excel in their academic and professional pursuits while driving economic growth in the region. By nurturing the next generation of leaders and problem solvers, they add, this partnership will leave a lasting impact on both the students and the community as a whole.

“The Markens Group firmly believes in the power of community,” President and CEO Ben Markens said. “Beyond our association-management services, we actively engage in initiatives that foster growth, build relationships, and strengthen the region. This partnership exemplifies our commitment to building community and empowering local talent.”

Daily News

AMHERST — The town of Hadley and UMass Amherst have signed a new strategic partnership agreement emphasizing open communication and joint efforts to deal with mutual challenges and opportunities.

The agreement, effective July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2027, includes an annual $85,000 payment to Hadley to support community needs identified as community concerns through its planning processes, town meeting, or other areas.

The agreement calls for annual meetings between the UMass Amherst chancellor and town officials, and regular meetings between the University Relations staff and the town administrator and other town officials, to communicate information of mutual concern.

“The university deeply values its relationship with the town of Hadley, and I am pleased that, with this agreement, we will continue to work together on issues of mutual interest,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said.

Hadley Select Board member Molly Keegan added that “the university is an important partner to the town of Hadley, and we value that relationship. We will continue to look for opportunities to collaborate in everyone’s best interests.”

This agreement extends and affirms the commitment by the university and the town to pursue economic-development opportunities, particularly around student needs and university research. The university will continue to offer the town partnership opportunities with faculty and projects that help assess economic impact.

The parties also agreed to work together to mitigate the effects of Route 9 traffic, share information on long-range planning, and explore issues of available and affordable housing for students, staff, and families relocating to the area.

Daily News

AMHERST — The town of Amherst and UMass Amherst announced a multi-year strategic partnership agreement recognizing the shared interests and responsibilities of the town and the university. The total value of university contributions to the town over the five-year agreement is $5.5 million, nearly double the university’s previous investment.

“For the past decade, I have had the pleasure of calling Amherst home. I am happy that, as I prepare to depart, we are able to finalize this strategic partnership agreement,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said. “The university and the town have always worked closely together, and this agreement will serve to strengthen our partnership in the years to come so that Amherst remains as one of the top college towns in America.”

Added Town Manager Paul Bockelman, “after many months of frank and fruitful discussions, I am very pleased that we have a new agreement. The town and the university meet regularly and work well together. I especially want to recognize Chancellor Subbaswamy, who has been committed to completing this agreement, which recognizes the important role the university plays in the town.”

The agreement includes a significant increase in the university’s support for fire and ambulance services, including the purchase of a new ambulance, yearly support toward town services to promote safe and healthy neighborhoods, and an increase in the university’s annual contribution to support the education of K-12 students residing in university-owned housing.

Key elements to the agreement include $3.5 million ($700,000 annually) for fire and ambulance services, $400,000 ($100,000 annually beginning in FY24) toward town services that support safe and healthy neighborhoods; and $1 million ($200,000 annually) into the town’s public schools to support the education of K-12 students residing in university-owned, tax-exempt housing. The university will also pay $125,000 ($25,000 annually) to support other services provided by the town.

One-time payments by the university include the purchase of a new ambulance for the town valued at $400,000, a $50,000 investment — to be matched by the town — to fund economic development, and university funding up to $65,000 for a pedestrian safety study along the town-owned North Pleasant Street corridor that bisects the campus.

In addition, the university will continue to provide funding equal to that of a 6% lodging fee for each occupied room per night at Hotel UMass (excluding rooms paid for by university accounts), which amounted to approximately $120,000 in FY22. The university will also continue to pay the town for licenses, fees, and services, including water and sewer service, which last year totaled more than $3.4 million.

The new partnership agreement marks the sixth time the town and university have entered into an accord, dating back to 1995. The new agreement is retroactive to July 1, 2022 and extends through June 30, 2027.

In the spirit of the strong and long-established town-gown partnership, the agreement commits town and campus leadership to continued and enhanced cooperation around planning, housing, economic development, and public infrastructure, and memorializes the frequency and salient topics being addressed. Also, the university and town pledge to continue to work together on conservation, sustainability, and resiliency efforts and the responsible stewardship of the local environment and natural resources, including strategies around water conservation and wastewater effluent use.

“This agreement is an important step in recognizing our shared needs and concerns and sets an exciting new standard for our relationship going forward,” Bockelman said.

Added Subbaswamy, “in any town-gown relationship, there are bound to be ups and downs. But we know we are better when we work together. This agreement shows that we are both confident about the relationship and our future shared successes.”

Daily News

AMHERST — Funded by a new grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a UMass Amherst environmental and reproductive epidemiologist aims to develop a more robust understanding of the effects of ambient air pollution on women’s reproductive health.

Carrie Nobles, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences, will use the two-year, $650,000 exploratory/developmental research grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to identify mechanisms and susceptible reproductive processes across the menstrual cycle and early pregnancy.

Ultimately, findings will provide the foundation for identifying ways to improve reproductive health and informing public policy on pollution standards.

Ambient air pollution, such as traffic and power-plant emissions, is associated with increases in inflammation and oxidative stress that may inhibit the establishment of a healthy pregnancy by disrupting endocrine function, ovulation, implantation, and placentation, Nobles explained.

Previous, smaller studies by Nobles and colleagues have linked air pollution to fertility at the broad population level, “but we don’t understand exactly how and who is most affected,” said Nobles, who is also analyzing the impact of air pollution and other environmental factors on men’s fertility in another NIH-funded study.

Nobles will incorporate data from the completed pre-conception time-to-pregnancy study known as EAGeR (Effects of Aspirin in Gestation and Reproduction), which evaluated the effect of low-dose aspirin on live-birth rates. The study includes detailed information on 1,228 participants during six menstrual cycles when they are attempting to get pregnant.

“Around the time of ovulation and also around the time of implantation of the embryo, exposure during those points to higher levels of air pollution does seem to relate to a lower probability of getting pregnant and also a higher risk of pregnancy loss,” Nobles said about findings from studies involving couples seeking infertility treatment. “But there are very few studies that have this fine, detailed information on the timing of things like ovulation, the earliest possible detection of pregnancy, and, potentially, a pregnancy loss. So we will be able to look at these acute exposures that are hard to detect.”

Nobles will estimate participants’ exposure to ambient air pollution during biologically informed windows of the menstrual cycle and early pregnancy by looking at the EPA’s Community Multiscale Air Quality models where they live.

For a smaller group of 288 women, Nobles will look at urinary levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, chemicals found in vehicle exhaust, cigarette and wood smoke, and grilled or charred food. She also will examine two biomarkers for oxidative stress mechanisms. “This will let us understand more about how these effects are happening,” she said.

For the group of women who received low-dose aspirin, Nobles will assess whether the anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet actions of aspirin reduce the impact of air-pollution exposure.

Nobles hypothesizes that air-pollution exposure around ovulation and implantation will change reproductive hormones and reduce fertility. Pollution exposure during critical windows in early pregnancy is also expected to increase risk of pregnancy loss.

She expects that the impacts of air pollution among the women who received low-dose aspirin will be weaker.

Daily News

AMHERST — A team of chefs from UMass Amherst brought home silver at the American Culinary Federation’s (ACF) collegiate competition on June 16 during the 29th annual Chef Culinary Conference held on the UMass Amherst campus.

The UMass Dining team featured chefs Anthony Jung, Jeff MacDonald, Max Melendez, and Kyle Bigelow. The chefs tested their skills against 12 other four-person college and university culinary teams from across the U.S., including Cornell University, the University of North Texas, Rice University, and Penn State University.

Each team was required to prepare a four-course meal including a buffet-style item to be served to the judges and competing teams. Teams had two hours to prepare and serve the first three courses and one hour for the buffet item.

The UMass Amherst team led with an English pea and lemon mousseline-crusted ocean perch prepared in a citrus butter sauce, ginger dragon puree, with tempura-fried oysters in a parsley-cilantro crème. This was followed by a cashew-stuffed quail breast and braised leg with jus lie, sweet-potato jam, stir-fried bok choy, and red rice. The entrée was accompanied by a lion’s mane mushroom ragout, sauteed garlicky mizuna, and baby mustard greens. The meal was completed with a caramelized white-chocolate raspberry cheesecake over a toasted peanut coconut-oil graham, pepita nougatine, vanilla whipped cream, orange anglaise, and raspberry-lemon compote. The buffet item was an herb pan-roasted pork tenderloin with sage jus and peach chutney, served with a bacon risotto, wax beans, and tomato concasse.

“We had a very talented group of competitors this year. Every team was well-prepared and competed like champions,” said Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises at UMass Amherst and co-chair of the Chef Culinary Conference. “I’m extremely proud of the UMass Dining team and the menu they created. This competition shows how much talent we have in the college and university dining segment. I’m thrilled that we continue to raise the bar in this arena.”

Chef John Masi, show chair for the ACF team competition, added that “this is not only the best-run ACF competition because of the quality of competitors and the quality of the judges, but because of the atmosphere of continually driving to improve, created by UMass Dining, that is contagious.”

Daily News

AMHERST — Michael Fox has been appointed dean of the College of Natural Sciences (CNS) at UMass Amherst by Tricia Serio, provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, effective Aug. 15.

“Dr. Fox brings deep experiences in academic leadership,” Serio said. “Through his collaborative leadership experience, support of interdisciplinary initiatives, dedication to faculty mentoring, and commitment to building an inclusive campus community, Dr. Fox is well-positioned to advance academic excellence and student success both within CNS and across campus.”

Fox has been a member of the Virginia Tech faculty since 2012, where he currently serves as director of the Virginia Tech School of Neuroscience, the endowed I.D. Wilson Chair in the Virginia Tech College of Science, and professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute, a research-intensive institute on the health-sciences and technology campus of Virginia Tech.

“I am tremendously excited to join the College of Natural Sciences and the UMass Amherst campus community,” Fox said. “I look forward to bringing my leadership and research experience to support faculty, staff, and trainees in the College of Natural Sciences and to help foster collaborative initiatives that advance the mission of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.”

After beginning his undergraduate studies at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), Fox earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the College of William and Mary and his Ph.D. in anatomy from Virginia Commonwealth University. He completed his post-doctoral training in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard University.

Throughout his career, Fox has received numerous awards and honors, including both the Jordi Folch Pi Award and the Marian Kies Award from the American Society for Neurochemistry, and has served as a counselor for the American Society for Neurochemistry, on several leadership committees for the Society for Neuroscience, and as a reviewer and chair for National Institutes of Health review panels. The focus of his research is the study of the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie neural circuit formation in the developing brain.

Fox will succeed Serio, who served as dean of the College of Natural Science from 2017 to 2022. Nathaniel Whitaker has been serving as interim dean of CNS for the past academic year and will return to the Department of Mathematics and Statistics as department head.

Daily News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Features Special Coverage

Moving Beyond a ‘Safety School’

chancellor in recent history at UMass Amherst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

UMass Amherst

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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



Some Big Shoes to Fill


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture Special Coverage

Surveying the Landscape

Robert Ryan

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


It’s called Valley on Board.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Evolving Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Passion for Preservation

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

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

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

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

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

Daily News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How Old Is the Water?

Dr. LeeAnn Munk

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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