The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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From the Director's Desk: Spring 2021

Soon the Spring 2021 semester will be in the rearview mirror. The pandemic has been challenging, yet we are feeling optimistic as conditions improve. We are grateful for our campus community rising to the challenge, adhering to masking and social distancing policies, and keeping COVID-19 testing rates high and positivity rates low. Every day, more of us are receiving our vaccines and becoming “activated” against the threat. Planning for the Fall 2021 semester has begun, and the campus has announced that in person operations will largely resume. 


In mid-March, the Symposium on Computing for the Common Good exceeded our expectations for a fully-online event. Over 170 people attended the two-day event, including representatives of nearly fifty private and public sector organizations. Attendees heard three outstanding keynote speakers, witnessed a dynamic panel discussion on government regulation of Artificial Intelligence technologies, and learned about the latest cutting-edge faculty work in computing and data science. All the sessions were recorded and are available on demand from the CICS YouTube channel. With luck, we may next year hold a research showcase event at the Mount Ida Campus, integrating in-person and online sessions.


Our Industry Mentorship course is, once again, proving to be a source of great joy as I advise the student teams while they creatively tackle a wide array of challenges posed by our industry affiliate partners. We have projects as varied as image compression, field-of-view prediction for augmented reality, fairness benchmarks for image captioning, case-based reasoning for drug repurposing, stock event prediction, social justice decision-making, topic-level sentiment analysis, and more. At the end of the semester, each team will deliver a six-minute lightning talk on their work, a short paper summarizing significant accomplishments, and all the prototype software they developed during the course. We’ll be making all these materials publicly available for on-demand viewing during the summer.


Finally, our Data Science for the Common Good 2021 program has come together beautifully. We have selected a dozen exceptional graduate students through a highly competitive application process, and are finalizing summer projects with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, the UMass Library system, the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and World Resources Institute Africa. For the first time, the entire summer program will be fully funded by one of the Center’s generous corporate sponsors. I’ll have more to share about this in our summer newsletter.


That’s all for now. I’ll catch up with you again during the summer. Until then, enjoy the improving weather and get vaccinated as soon as you can!