The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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From the Director's Desk (Spring 2020)

When I wrote to you last December, CDS was winding down a highly successful Fall 2019 semester. We reported a slew of faculty accomplishments, new corporate members of our Industry Affiliates Program, and plans for both the Data Science Research Symposium and the summer run of Data Science for the Common Good (DS4CG). All that energy and momentum carried over into the Spring 2020 semester. A new round of faculty recruiting kicked into high gear, with nine searches running in parallel. Our Industry Mentorship Program launched with a cohort of more than 70 master’s students tackling twenty-two company-defined team projects. We announced two wonderful keynote speakers for our Symposium (Susan Dumais, Director of Microsoft Research for New York, New England, and Montreal; and Professor Erik Learned-Miller of UMass CICS) and had a diverse technical program well in development. We were in discussions with over nine prospective DS4CG partners, and had received significant financial sponsorship for the program from MassMutual. We hired the Center’s first Senior Data Scientist to help us connect more strongly with industry partners. 

 

Then, in the space of a few days, everything changed.

 

Like all of you, since early March we have been adapting to the new reality under stress and uncertainty. Our best-laid plans are in limbo, our Research Symposium is postponed to September 17 and DS4CG 2020 is at risk. We are fortunate to be able to do most of our work remotely, and grateful for the computing infrastructure and software applications that enable continuity of our operations. Yet even as our work proceeds, we are deeply affected by the adverse impacts of the pandemic unfolding all around us. We take institutional pride in the work of Richard Peltier, a UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences professor, showing that medical face masks may be safely reused after sterilization. Closer to home, we are encouraged by the timely and promising research of CICS professor Tauhidur Rahman and his colleagues on contactless sensing to predict pandemic disease. Each one of us is seeking and finding ways small and large to help. For example, the Center’s Executive Director is forming a team of CICS faculty and staff to raise money for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts by participating in the “Will Bike 4 Food” charity ride in the fall.

 

We cannot predict when normalcy will return. In the meantime, as you’ll see below, we are still continuing to work on the research and education activities that are core to our mission. We are especially grateful for the ongoing support of our industry partners, more notably those who are continuing to guide and mentor students this semester. I will be in touch again in June. Until then, best wishes to all to stay healthy and safe during this difficult time.