The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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From the Director's Desk (Spring 2019)

We received great feedback on December’s inaugural newsletter! It’s clear that you appreciate being informed about Center news and events, significant faculty and student achievements, and noteworthy research that is relevant to your organization’s business and mission. I’m delighted to continue the conversation! Although only three months have elapsed since the last newsletter, I have plenty of updates to share with you.


Let’s start with education, our primary mission. When we launched the Center for Data Science in 2015, we focused on graduate-level education. We created a concentration in data science for students pursuing the M.S. degree in computer and information sciences, and a complementary certificate in statistical and computational data science for anyone seeking to enhance their data science skills or round out their degrees.  Currently, nearly 100 graduate students have submitted optional pre-applications for the data science concentration, and another 60 are working to complete the certificate. The industry impact? More UMass Amherst graduate students entering the workforce with broad and deep training in the latest data science tools and methods, including hands-on experience using our outstanding GPU and CPU compute clusters funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.


In 2018, we shifted attention towards undergraduate data science education. Our first step was to import the wildly successful Berkeley “Data 8” course, adapt and pilot test it here on campus for undergraduates outside computer science and statistics. Although the pilot class of Foundations of Data Science was small, the course ran smoothly, especially the supporting computational infrastructure. We are now looking to expand the course, and to integrate data science into the other schools and colleges at UMass. Now, more B.A. and B.S. graduates able to attack problems in their primary area of study with the tools and methods of data science.


In research, our faculty continue to win awards and grants to support their innovative projects. We’re especially proud that Barna Saha has been awarded a prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship for her research in theoretical computer science and the mathematical foundation of data science, and that Shlomo Zilberstein received the 2019 Distinguished Service Award by the American Association of Artificial Intelligence for sustained and conscientious service and leadership. Elsewhere in this newsletter, we’ll share news of additional awards and achievements.


I’m also excited about the progress being made under this semester’s industry MS mentorship program. Access to this program is an exclusive benefit for our industry affiliate partners. This semester, thirteen companies are collectively mentoring 61 Master’s students in data science across sixteen projects. The projects span text understanding and summarization, named entity recognition and linking, causal models for supply chain optimization, modeling disease progression, and more. Participating companies are gaining valuable insights from the semester-long activity, as well as a recruiting edge with the students they advise and mentor. Not an affiliate yet? Learn more here about how to become one!


Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to mention our upcoming Data Science Research Symposium. This event is a personal favorite. The morning plenary consists of a rapid-fire series of faculty-led “lightning talks,” seven-minute briefings that highlight current projects and industry-relevant results. Interspersed with the faculty-led talks are “industry spotlights,” where selected industry researchers discuss ongoing work and pose “university-grade” research challenges. In the afternoon, we host an industry “meet & greet” where companies can staff tables and connect with students and faculty, as well as a collection of technical workshops and “deep dives” on hot topics in data science. This is the perfect venue for current industry partners to catch up with the latest developments, and for prospective partners to see exactly why our list of affiliates keeps growing. (Recent additions include Bose, Quantiphi, Raytheon, and Voya.)


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



Professor Andrew McCallum