MassMutual Expands UMV Data Science Partnership with $5M Gift

The gift will be used in part to establish the MassMutual Center of Excellence for Complex Systems and Data Science on the University of Vermont campus in Burlington.

(Artists conception of an interior space in the proposed MassMutual Center of Excellence for Complex Systems and Data Science.)

MassMutual (Springfield, Mass.) has expanded its partnership with the University of Vermont’s (UVM, Burlington) Complex Systems Center through $5 million in funding to further advance study and research in the field of data science and analytics. The gift, which comes a little over a year after the insurer announced its relationship with UVM, will be used in part to establish the MassMutual Center of Excellence for Complex Systems and Data Science.

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

The proposed Center will initiate research projects and programs aimed at better understanding human wellness through data analytics, as well as programming to cultivate a strong pipeline of data science talent, according to a MassMutual statement released today. The expanded partnership also includes the creation of a paid MassMutual fellowship for Ph.D. students, a visualization data artist-in-residence program for early career data scientists, and funding for research and mentorship programs for undergraduate, postgraduate and Ph.D. students.

Speaking at a ceremony on the campus of UVM to commemorate the expanded partnership, Sears Merritt, who oversees data science, engineering, and advanced analytics operations at MassMutual, remarked that the ability to be able to extract knowledge from data has never been more important. Sources of that data are proliferating and having a great impact on people’s well-being and behavior, he said.

“In order to take advantage of this potential and answer these fundamental questions, we need to leverage the power of science but apply it in a modern setting where teams of cross functional experts can work and collaborate together,” Merritt remarked. “Complex Systems and Data Science as fields and the center here at UVM represent the gold standard in this concept.”

“To that end, this new center will serve as a world-class research facility that will provide students with the opportunity to gain deeper insights into data assets, publish their findings, and ultimately help identify trends in health and wellness to help people live better,” Merritt added.

Artist’s conception of an interior space in the proposed MassMutual Center of Excellence for Complex Systems and Data Science. Source: MassMutual. (Click to enlarge.)

Merritt went on to say that the Center will also seek to develop data science talent, noting that while job postings for data scientists have risen 75 percent during the past three years, there is a dearth of candidates to fill them.

Following Merritt, Adam Fox, who leads MassMutual’s Data Science team, introduced himself as both a MassMutual employee and policyholder—and an alumnus of UVM. “This relationship has and will continue to train students and push the knowledge boundary,” Fox commented. “Moreover, through the research initiatives that will take place here, we expect we will make great strides towards improving health and wellness for all.”

Fox characterized the new funding as being directed primarily at furthering research for the betterment of society.  He explained that each year, two themes of interest will be chosen by UVM faculty in collaboration with MassMutual, and identified the following as topics of research: 

  • Longevity and Wellness

    Adam Fox, Head of Data Science, MassMutual.

    • Intervention Methodologies
    • Environmental impacts on wellness
    • Relationship between physical and financial health
  • Algorithmic Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency
    • Explainable AI
    • Methods for detecting and controlling bias
    • Data Ethics
  • Measurement Methodologies for large scale social systems
    • Sleep and Health
    • Social Cohesion
    • Macroeconomic events

In addition to the new Center building and fellowship grants, the gift will support the establishment of a Research Fund to further data acquisition, execute experiments to test hypotheses and support external subject matter experts, Fox said.

“Finally, the funding will be used to create a beautiful workspace on the third floor of the STEM Innovation building,” Fox added.  “We are very excited about the research that will be conducted here. This space, in the heart of campus, will foster strong collaboration between and among faculty, students, and industry, and provide them with the resources needed to excel,” he concluded.

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Anthony R. O’Donnell // Anthony O'Donnell is Executive Editor of Insurance Innovation Reporter. For nearly two decades, he has been an observer and commentator on the use of information technology in the insurance industry, following industry trends and writing about the use of IT across all sectors of the insurance industry. He can be reached at or (503) 936-2803.

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