MassMutual Partners with University of Vermont on Data Science Initiative

The insurer will fund a $500,000 pilot program to create Ph.D. fellowship, faculty-driven data science collaboration, and hire a visual data artist-in-residence.

(UVM’s Old Mill Building. Photo credit: Jared C. Benedict.)

MassMutual (Springfield, Mass.) has announced that it is providing the University of Vermont (UVM, Burlington) $500,000 to fund a pilot program within the university’s Vermont Complex Systems Center. The funding will be used to found a data science fellowship, foster faculty collaboration, and hire a visual data artist-in-residence.

Sears Merritt, VP, Data Science, Engineering & Advanced Analytics, MassMutual Financial Group.

The initiative is one several recent undertakings by MassMutual to support data science and cyber initiatives with strategic academic research partners. Other initiatives during the past four years include a $2 million, four-year program providing Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, the resources to hire five visiting faculty positions and support the development of a data science-focused curriculum; the opening of a state-of-the-art 5,000-square-foot data science lab in Amherst and, most recently, the MassMutual Foundation in 2016 announced a donation to UMass Amherst of $15 million over 10 years to further strengthen the university’s world-class data science and cybersecurity research and education programs in Western Massachusetts.

MassMutual elaborates on the three specific initiatives of the partnership with UVM as follows:

  • Funding for a newly created MassMutual Ph.D. Fellowship. This four-year fellowship will provide funding for a Ph.D. student working in data science and complex systems at UVM. The MassMutual fellow will explore research at the intersection of human health and well-being, data science, and complex systems.
  • Supporting faculty collaboration. Through a named research fund, MassMutual will support exploratory questions related to wellness, human behavior and networks with a team of interdisciplinary faculty in UVM’s Vermont Complex Systems Center.
  • Hiring a visual data artist-in-residence. Visual data is an essential tool that communicates complex information clearly, creatively and effectively. The MassMutual Visual Data Artist-in-Residence will partner with Complex Systems Center students and faculty and with MassMutual’s data science team to create visualizations that allow people to easily understand and interact with complex data.

“We are excited to be working with the Vermont Complex Systems Center, and the world class research talent it brings to our strategic initiative of blending and applying academic and industrial capabilities to many fundamental issues,” comments Sears Merritt, head of data science, MassMutual. “Our partnership with UVM aims to enable the development of novel quantitative methods, as well as uncover new insights related to changes and patterns in human behavior and the determinants of social well-being.”

Peter Dodds, Director, Vermont Complex Systems Center.

The Vermont Complex Systems Center supports data science and complex systems education through interdisciplinary learning, and the Center’s Master’s and Ph.D. level graduates have gone on to work for leading data science teams in the private sector at major US and international companies, a MassMutual statement reports. MassMutual’s initiative is the largest single corporate collaboration with the Center since its creation in 2009.

“All of us at the Vermont Complex System Center are very excited about our new and growing connection with MassMutual,” comments Peter Dodds, director, Vermont Complex Systems Center. “In this increasingly data-rich age, our students are becoming ever more valuable for companies like MassMutual, and we’re also seeing a vast landscape of basic science possibilities.”

“MassMutual’s investment in the Vermont Complex Systems Center aligns well with two critical campus priorities at UVM—STEM and Health research—so our hope is that this collaboration with MassMutual is the first step in a long-lasting partnership,” comments Shane Jacobson, president and CEO of the UVM Foundation. The UVM Foundation has embarked on an initiative called Move Mountains: The Campaign for The University of Vermont to raise private support for UVM as one of the nation’s best public research universities.

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