The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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From the Director's Desk (Fall 2019)

Classes resumed on September 3rd, and the Commonwealth’s flagship campus is again humming with energy and activity. The incoming undergraduate class is the largest in the University’s history, hailing from 45 states and 61 countries. Here in the College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS), we are educating over 1200 computer science and informatics undergraduates, 380 M.S students and 270 Ph.D. students. Following the trend, these numbers have all increased from last year, some significantly.


We’ve continued to add faculty to help us meet educational demands and expand our research programs. Cameron Musco just started as an assistant professor, joining us from M.I.T.’s Theory of Computation group. Ali Sarvghad has taken a research faculty appointment and is building a lab focused on visualization methods for exploratory data analysis and sense-making. Matthew Rattigan and Jaime Dávila have taken teaching faculty appointments, and we are looking forward to the January arrival of Ivon Arroyo, an associate professor specializing in learning sciences and educational/cognitive psychology. Complementing these new faculty, seven of our existing faculty members were promoted in recognition of their track records of success in education and research.


Our faculty continue to pursue innovative lines of research that address pressing societal needs consistent with the College’s vision of “Computing for the Common Good.” Professor Erik Learned-Miller, for example, has recently become the public “face of facial recognition.” Twelve years ago, Learned-Miller and his colleagues created the Labeled Faces in the Wild dataset which spurred profound advances in computer vision algorithms able to recognize human faces with high accuracy. Now that facial recognition technologies are in widespread use, Learned-Miller is highly sought after for his perspectives on the potential dangers of such technologies. He’s been thinking hard about the issues and recently proposed that facial recognition technologies could be regulated in the same way that the Food and Drug Administration regulates medical devices. In addition to his leadership role in the Computer Vision Lab, Learned-Miller is a member of the College’s EQUATE group focusing on issues of equitable algorithms and systems.


For a second example, a team led by professors Prashant Shenoy and Subhransu Maji has developed a new, data-driven approach that uses machine learning techniques and widely available satellite images to identify roofs that have the most potential to produce cost-effective solar power. To the extent that renewable energy sources like solar become ubiquitous, the more likely we’ll be able to mitigate the growing climate crisis. Shenoy and Maji presented the DeepRoof tool at the recent SIGKDD conference, demonstrating a capability to identify the solar potential of roofs with 91 percent accuracy. This will help homeowners and installers make better decisions about placement of rooftop solar systems.


Our Data Science for Common Good (DS4CG) summer program wrapped up in mid-August and was an unqualified success! The cohort of 15 fellows delivered insights and software prototypes to six nonprofit organizations and government agencies working in public health, education, health and wellness, environmental conservation, and more. We’re already planning to run the program again in 2020. We can use your help! Download the brochure to learn more, consider supporting the program--financially, as a volunteer team mentor, and/or through your corporate social responsibility initiative--or help us connect with a nonprofit partner. We’ll be holding a DS4CG celebration and 2020 kickoff event here on campus on October 21st--contact us at if you want to be there. This program demonstrates the power of data science to do good, and addresses a growing hunger for opportunities like these among our aspiring data scientists.


That’s all I have room for here. Please read on for more news, and please send us your feedback!