The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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From the Director's Desk (Summer 2020)

It’s early July in Amherst. Except for a few brief campus visits to collect papers and check mail, my students and I have worked remotely since mid-March. The shift to fully online work was awkward at first but now feels routine. In many ways we feel closer and more connected than ever before, as video conferencing provides a window into each other’s lives. Even so, I will be thrilled when the days no longer begin and end with news about the pandemic.


Amid the disruptions, we notched some remarkable accomplishments. Our most recent round of faculty recruiting was successful beyond dreams, yielding twelve new hires spanning data science and artificial intelligence, theory, information retrieval, and robotics. In addition, I’m looking forward to welcoming Yair Zick, recruited in 2019, who will be joining us this Fall.


In another high-profile development, Prof. Erik Learned-Miller led a multi-author team to propose a new model for managing facial recognition technologies (FRTs) at the federal level. Sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation, the team used the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a model, suggesting that FRTs be categorized by degrees of risk and assigned corresponding controls. Join us for an interactive Q&A with Professor Learned-Miller on July 15 (registration required).


Our summer experiential learning program, Data Science for the Common Good (DS4CG), is reaching the halfway mark of its third year. I’m deeply grateful for the support provided by our industry partners - GE Healthcare, Genpact, Lexalytics, MassMutual, Oracle, Raytheon, and Voya Financial. These partners have furnished volunteer technical advisors to the nine DS4CG student fellows who are working on projects for the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Boston Veterans Administration, AuCoDe, and the UMass Classics Department. The fellows, working fully remotely, are gaining invaluable experience engaging with clients, dealing with real-world data wrangling and analysis challenges, prototyping data science services and systems using an agile development methodology, and delivering results that will help their partners increase their mission impact.


Planning for the fall semester remains in flux with a range of scenarios under consideration. We’re developing plans to move all recruiting services to online modes, and to hold one or more interactive technical webinars in lieu of on-campus symposia and workshops. Much of this will become clear once the campus announces its overall operational plans in early July. Stay tuned for more details. Until then, best wishes to all to stay healthy, safe and productive.