MassMutual pledges $5 million to UVM's Complex Systems Center

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MassMutual pledges $5 million to UVM's Complex Systems Center

Fri, 10/05/2018 - 4:48pm -- tim

UVM President Tom Sullivan announced the $5 million gift from MassMutual at the Alumni House Friday. VBM photos.

by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Expanding its relationship with the University of Vermont’s Complex Systems Center, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company announced today that it is providing $5 million in funding to further advance study and research in the field of data science and analytics. While alumni weekend is a common time to announce major gifts and projects, the relationship building associated with it was the central theme in UVM President Tom Sullivan's short speech in making the gift announcement. He first met MassMutual Chairman and CEO Roger Crandall, class of 1987, at an alumni function a few years ago in Manhattan. Sullivan said the $5 million in funding from MassMutual is the largest corporate gift in UVM's history.

The funding will be provided over five years beginning in 2019. It will establish the MassMutual Center of Excellence for Complex Systems and Data Science. The Complex Systems 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.

Sullivan said the academic connections that are being built between faculty and students, alumni and the international scientific community exemplify how relationships develop. The announcement was held in the stunning UVM Alumni House on a brilliant day.

Crandall, who was unable to attend the ceremony, said in a statement: “This new center will provide students with the opportunity to gain deeper insights into data assets, publish their findings, and ultimately identify trends in health and wellness to help people live healthier lives. We look forward to continuing our partnership with UVM to foster greater talent in the data science field and working together to find new ways to harness the power of data to make a positive impact on our world.”

In addition to the establishment of the center, the expanded partnership between MassMutual and UVM includes the creation of a paid MassMutual fellowship for PhD 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.

UVM Mathematics Professor Chris Danforth explains some of the applications of data science, especially in the realm of health and wellness. VBM photo.

The initial research projects that will be conducted at the MassMutual Center of Excellence include study in the following areas:   

  • Longevity and wellness, including the link between physical and financial health and environmental impacts on wellness.
  • Algorithmic fairness, accountability and transparency, which will encompass alternative underwriting data, methods for controlling bias and data ethics.
  • Measurement methodologies for large scale social systems, covering such topics as macroeconomic events, mortality risk and social cohesion, among others.

“We are extremely excited to be entering into this next phase of our partnership with the Vermont Complex Systems Center. This is a world class lab at the forefront of improving our understanding of fundamental socio-economic issues through modern, data-driven research,” said Sears Merritt, MassMutual’s Chief Data Scientist, Head of Data Science and Advanced Analytics.

“Our collective efforts here will improve understanding of the physical and financial determinants of wellness in the United States, and create actionable results that advance our industry and society at large. At the same time, we aim to drive talent development through research and publication.” 

The Vermont Complex Systems Center supports data science and complex systems education through interdisciplinary learning, and the Center’s master’s and doctorate level graduates have gone on to work for leading data science teams in the private sector at major US and international companies. Negotiated with assistance from the UVM Foundation’s Corporate & Foundation Relations office, the data science initiative with MassMutual represents the largest single corporate collaboration with the Center since its inception in 2009. 

“This significant investment in UVM represents a milestone for us,” said UVM President Tom Sullivan. “Our distinguished faculty and programs are capable of dynamic, large scale partnerships that permit the University to create this Center of Excellence with MassMutual, a company named one of the top fifty most ethical companies in the world. We couldn't have a better partner to share UVM's passion for wellness in this exciting endeavor." 

“We are incredibly excited to partner with MassMutual for our new Center of Excellence in Complex Systems and Data Science,” said Peter Dodds, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at UVM and director of the university’s Complex Systems Center. “The MassMutual Center will be a wellspring of research into people-centric systems, guided by our core ethos to make the world a better place: healthier, happier, fairer, and more productive and creative. The Center will also boost our established educational programs to help students at all levels become the ethical, powerful data scientists that the world needs.''

Dodds first taught a complex data course in 2007 and some of his students were on hand for the event.

"We're unbelievably excited about the future," he said.

This latest initiative with the Vermont Complex Systems Center underscores MassMutual’s ongoing commitment to data science and cyber initiatives. This includes a $2 million, four-year program with Mount Holyoke College and Smith College to provide funding to hire five visiting faculty positions, support the development of a data science-focused curriculum and promote greater diversity in the field. MassMutual also opened a state-of-the-art 5,000-square-foot data science lab in Amherst, Mass. and the MassMutual Foundation has donated $15 million to UMass Amherst over 10 years to further strengthen the university’s data science and cybersecurity programs in Western Massachusetts. 

Source: Springfield, Mass. and Burlington, Vt. MassMutual. UVM. 10.5.2018