The University of Massachusetts Amherst


seed grant watering canThe Institute has an annual grant opportunity for faculty. To encourage multidisciplinary scholarship that will impact communities, we offer up to $12,000 for team research on diversity and equity.

Proposals due: March 1, 2022.
Check back here for request for proposals in Fall 2021.


Teams we’ve funded in 2021

From left: Narges Mahyar (Assistant Professor, College of Information and Computer Sciences), Jane E. Fountain (Distinguished University Professor, Political Science), Ethan Zuckerman (Associate Professor, School of Public Policy and Communication), Ali Sarvghad (Research Assistant Professor, College of Information and Computer Sciences)

The main objective of this project is to test technological solutions for increasing public engagement and reducing social inequalities on a town scale. Community engagement is imperative for participatory democracy, yet difficult to achieve. Participating in town halls and public meetings can be difficult for all citizens – and poses particular challenges for diverse and marginalized populations.

From Left: Christian Guzman (Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering), Seda Salap-Ayça (Lecturer, Geosciences), Christine Hatch Associate Extension Professor (Geosciences), Eve Vogel (Associate Professor, Geosciences), and Cielo Sharkus (Graduate Student, Civil and Environmental Engineering)

A flood’s consequences on a community depends not only on its geography, but on socio-economic status, cultural dynamics, and other features of community demographics. Our research team of engineers, geoscientists, and geographers, including faculty and graduate students, will analyze US census demographic data and produce maps that show who is vulnerable to floods. We will then quantitatively compare the risks to residents living in the same municipality, depending  on demographic differences. Our focus is on  the case of Massachusetts.

From left: Ning Zhang (Assistant Professor, Public Health & Health Sciences) and Joohyun Chung (Assistant Professor, Nursing)

According to the 2019 Report Card on Access to Palliative Care, about 50% of whites with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia (ADRD) used palliative care before they died, while only 34% of African Americans and 37% of Hispanics did. Yet, few scientific studies have detailed or explored why such racial and ethnic disparities in palliative care among people with ADRD exist. Our multidisciplinary research team will deploy expertise in nursing and health services to quantify racial and ethnic disparities among a broad set of nursing home residents with ADRD who are receiving palliative care, as opposed to non-palliative care.

Teams we funded in 2020

From left: Mark Pachucki (sociology), and Nicole VanKim (biostatistics & epidemiology)

The goal of this project is to assess how chronic stress related to the criminal justice system is associated with cellular aging. Chronic stress is a critical social determinant of racial and ethnic disparities in morbidity and mortality. Yet, the social and biological pathways through which chronic stress relating to the criminal justice system contributes to later-life health risks have not yet been well-characterized.

From left: Paige Warren (environmental conservation), and Nathan Chan (resource economics)

Street trees, parks, waterways, and other pockets of urban nature are the primary places where people in cities have access to biodiversity. But in many cities, only the wealthiest residents have access to urban nature that is high in biodiversity. At the same time, it remains unclear how much the biodiversity of urban nature matters to human well-being. For example, does it matter to human well-being whether the green spaces around us are comprised of mowed green lawns as opposed to trees, shrubs, and a wide variety of animal life?

From left: Krista Harper (anthropology), Erin Baker (mechanical & industrial engineering), Matthew Lackner (mechanical & industrial engineering), and Anna P. Goldstein (mechanical & industrial engineering)

The Energy Transition Institute — Renewable Energy Equity Partnership (ETI-REEP) project advances knowledge of human dimensions of the energy transition through exploratory research on cultural frameworks for energy equity, taking on the case of Holyoke, Massachusetts. 

Teams we funded in 2019

From left: Carolina Aragon (landscape architecture), Ezra Markowitz (environmental conservation), Trisha Andrew (chemistry), and Elisabeth Hamin (landscape architecture)

This project was co-funded by the Institute of Diversity Sciences and the Social Science and Environment Network (supported by the Institute of Social Science Research and the School of Earth and Sustainability).

From left: Kevin Young (political science), Brendan O'Connor (computer science), and Seth Goldman (communication)

Our project examines the diversity of powerful organizations, including large global corporations, think tanks and a variety of international organizations. We utilize new data collection and network analysis to answer two key questions about organizational leadership. First, how diverse are these leaders in terms of gender, race, color and educational background? Second, has this diversity changed over time, and if so how?  Existing studies on diversity within large organizations are simple counting exercises, and usually just of boards and CEOs of corporations.

From Left: Katherine Dixon-Gordon (psychological & brain sciences); Karen Kalmakis (nursing); Linda Isbell, PhD (psychological & brain sciences); William Soares (emergency medicine, UMass Medical School, Baystate); Elizabeth Schoenfeld (emergency medicine, UMass Medical School, Baystate)

A substantial proportion of emergency department (ED) visits are due to substance misuse. Although providing these patients with a brief screening and treatment referral is efficacious, less than half of ED staff provide such referrals. ED patients with substance misuse constitute a population at the intersection of multiple social and economic sources of health care disparities. The ED is mandated to treat all presenting patients; consequently, the ED disproportionately serves as the first, and often only, treatment for low income, underinsured patients, and substance misuse is more often associated with ED visits among underinsured patients.

From left: Jeffrey Starns (psychological & brain sciences), Andrew Cohen (psychological & brain Sciences), and Darrell Earnest (teacher education and curriculum studies)

Everyday we calculate odds to make decisions on everything from our health to our finances. Making these decisions efficiently is key to improving our lives and bettering society. If calculating statistics is difficult for most people, students with learning disabilities face unique challenges. Developing more inclusive educational practices for mathematical concepts is thus critical to our societal needs and to developing accessible STEM education. So, what if we could teach statistics visually first, then connect this understanding with equations? Would this improve learning for students of diverse ability?

Teams we funded in 2018

From left: Dania Francis (economics) and Sara Whitcomb (student development)

We will explore whether teachers exhibit bias (either negative or positive) with regard to race, gender, or socioeconomic status in their perceptions of student absenteeism and tardiness (a proxy for effort). Subjective perceptions that teachers form about student behaviors ,such as effort, perseverance, participation, and disruptiveness, often inform academic placement decisions that can alter a student’s entire academic trajectory. This can be especially detrimental if decisions that are based on behavioral perceptions induce a mismatch between the student’s actual ability and the student’s academic placement – i.e.

Standing from left: Tiffany Trzebiatowski (management), Fidan Kurtulus (economics); sitting from left: Ina Ganguli (economics), Doug Rice (political science)

Our team will study how employer discrimination and worker diversity impacts firm performance and innovation outcomes. To do this, they will collect and construct a large-scale, unique database of employment discrimination court cases and link this to firm diversity and firm performance measures. This project will be an important contribution to the body of scientific knowledge on how diversity among employees and discrimination litigation can impact firm outcomes.

The research team will leverage the seed funding from IDS to apply for larger grants from the NSF, Department of Labor, and private foundations.

From Left: Lisa Sanders (psychological and brain sciences), Meghan Armstrong-Abrami (languages, literatures, and cultures), Anne Gilman (psychological and brain sciences) and Kristine Yu (linguistics).

Understanding speech in noisy environments is both necessary for healthy functioning and a considerable challenge. Classroom noise interferes with speech comprehension and hinders learning, especially in listeners trying to access education in a non-native language. There exist large disparities in a fundamental aspect of thriving in our society: access to successful speech communication in classrooms.

From left: Jennifer M. McDermott (psychology), Shannon C. Roberts (mechanical and industrial engineering) and graduate students Adaeze Egwuatu (driver seat) and Yalda Ebadi (passenger seat).

Young drivers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is characterized by difficulties with attention, impulsivity, and risk-taking behavior, are known to be at an increased risk for traffic crashes. Assistive driving technology may be especially helpful, or harmful, in supporting driving performance among these individuals. The objective of the proposed study is to assess the correspondence between distinct attention profiles among vulnerable young drivers and the usefulness of specific types of assistive driving technology.

From left: Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson (biostatistics & epidemiology), Nicole VanKim (biostatistics & epidemiology), and Lynnette Leidy Sievert (anthropology)

We aim to understand whether timing of menopause and menopause symptom experiences may vary based on sexual orientation. Few studies have examined this critical window of change among lesbian and bisexual women, despite the fact that they are more likely than heterosexual women to experience risk factors that in turn may increase their risk for younger age of menopause and experiencing more menopause symptoms (such as hot flashes and night sweats). Younger age of menopause increases risk for heart disease and premature mortality, while more menopause symptoms can negatively affect quality of life.

From left: Kristine Yu (linguistics), Meghan Armstrong-Abrami (languages, literatures, and cultures), Lisa Green (linguistics) and Brendan O’Connor (computer science)

It is well known that there are systematic differences between African American English (AAE)—a linguistic variety with set sentence structure, sound patterns, meaning, and word structure used by some, not all African Americans—and “mainstream/classroom/standard” American English. For example, speakers of AAE know that they can say she been married to mean that ‘She has been married’, but that if they put an accent on been, i.e., she BEEN married, that means that ‘She has been married for a long time and is still married’. But what does an AAE speaker do with their voice to produce an accented BEEN, and how does a listener perceive it?