The University of Massachusetts Amherst


The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees has named Associate Professor Colin Gleason of the Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Department as the newest Armstrong Professional Development Professor. The Armstrong professorship was established in 2001 with an endowment of $850,000 by John and Elizabeth Armstrong of Amherst, Massachusetts, and a $650,000 matching grant from the University of Massachusetts President’s Distinguished Professorship Initiative.

The professorship is awarded for a three-year period to a faculty member who is at the beginning of their career and has demonstrated substantial achievement and great promise in their area of teaching and research.

Since arriving at UMass Amherst in 2016, Gleason has engaged in a wide array of research and education activities, with a focus on translating process-based hydrology and geochemistry to global scales through Arctic fieldwork, satellite data processing, and geomorphically informed modelling and data assimilation. He leads Fluvial@UMass, “a research group that cares about rivers, climate change, and the Arctic.”

Reflecting on his new appointment, Gleason noted: “The key to unlocking much of the uncertainty in our hydro-climate system is to wrench the signal from the petabytes of satellite and ground data we’re swimming in. This appointment will allow me to work on the ‘hydrology of what is’ in a way that pushes the College’s cutting edge in hydrology even further as I explore data fusion and physics discovery to better understand the current state of river water quantity and quality.”

In 2018, Gleason received a five-year, $530,000 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation to conduct a detailed study of Arctic river flows and how they respond to changes in the climate. As part of this award, he designed and advised a new course at UMass Amherst—Integrating Geosciences and Engineering in the Arctic (IGEA)—a two-semester course that prepares and sends undergraduates to conduct hands-on research in Alaska.

In 2022, Gleason received a $2.1 NASA million grant to work with computer science colleagues at UMass Amherst and the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) to create a cloud-based software system providing unprecedented public access to satellite data on Earth’s water quantity and quality.

Gleason is the Director for Calibration and Validation of U.S. Inland Hydrology for the $1.2 billion NASA Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) spacecraft and a member of the SWOT Science Team. He was among the mission-critical scientists who gathered at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on December 16, 2022, to observe the SWOT launch

Gleason has also been a member of the Science Team for NASA’s High Mountain Asia program and a NASA New Investigator, NASA’s equivalent of the NSF CAREER award.

He received a BS in Forest Engineering and MS in Environmental Resources Engineering from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a PhD in Geography from the University of California Los Angeles.

When the Armstrong endowment was established by the Armstrongs in 2001, John Armstrong explained that “Support of this kind is very valuable to young professors. Otherwise they spend a tremendous amount of time trying to find grants from various resources.” 

John Armstrong is a member of the College of Engineering Dean’s Advisory Council. He served on the University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees from 2004 to 2007. He retired in 1993 from IBM as vice president of science and technology and was a member of IBM’s Corporate Management Board. He also was a presidential appointee to the National Science Board, chaired the governing board of the American Institute of Physics, and served as a member of the National Academy of Engineering. 

Elizabeth Armstrong has been an active volunteer in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, and a founding member of the Emily Dickinson Board of Governors.

The Armstrongs are major supporters of the College of Engineering, and UMass gave them Honorary Alumni Awards in 2003 and the President’s Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the university, in 2004. For their service to UMass Amherst and the wider community through advocacy and philanthropy, the Armstrongs were the recipients of the 2022 UMass Alumni Honors Excellence in Service Award.

Previous recipients of the Armstrong professorship include Provost Professor Shelly Peyton of the Chemical Engineering Department, Professor David McLaughlin of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, and Distinguished Professor Erin Baker of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department.

Gleason’s appointment as the Armstrong Professional Development Professor officially begins on July 1st.

(June 2023)

Article posted in Faculty