UMass campus shot Spotlight Scholars

Spotlight Scholars

The UMass Amherst Spotlight Scholars initiative shines a light on faculty working for positive social change through research, scholarship, and creative activity. Learn more about the work of these leading minds.

A call for nominations will be issued once a year at the beginning of fall semester. Nominations for the Spotlight Scholar award are currently closed. Find information on the nomination process, eligibility, and recognition.

The nomination period for the 2023–2024 UMass Amherst Spotlight Scholar faculty award program is now closed.

See an archive of older Spotlight Scholars.

Meet the Spotlight Scholars

Kathryn Derose

Kathryn Derose, professor of community health education at UMass Amherst, conducts participatory community-based research to address issues of health inequality.

Alice Cheung in lab with plants

UMass Amherst Distinguished Professor Alice Y. Cheung is an internationally renowned researcher studying plant reproduction, with implications for global agriculture.

Emiliano Ricciardi

UMass Amherst music historian Emiliano Ricciardi leads a digital humanities project that enables scholars and performers to explore works of and inspired by Italian poet Torquato Tasso.

Justin Coles

Through his research, UMass Amherst Associate Professor of Social Justice Education Justin A. Coles seeks to understand the experiences of Black youth in educational systems and helps them share their stories. 

Torrey Trust

Torrey Trust’s research on teaching, learning, and technology is shared with educators around the world to improve student learning and encourage the design of more accessible and inclusive learning environments.

Kathleen Arcaro

UMass Amherst Professor Kathleen Arcaro studies breast milk to understand both how breast cancer develops and how to prevent it.

Jonathan Corpus Ong, standing outside at UMass Amherst

UMass Amherst Associate Professor Jonathan Corpus Ong, one of the country’s leading scholars of online disinformation, goes behind the scenes of the business of fake news production.

Michael Constantino

Professor of Clinical Psychology Michael Constantino’s research aims to help psychotherapists provide more effective treatment to patients suffering from a range of mental health challenges.

Om Parkash Dhankher

Om Parkash Dhankher is a leader in plant biotechnology, working to address food safety and security challenges facing the world.

Melissa Mueller

Literary scholar and critic Melissa Mueller studies early Greek poetry, from Homer through Greek tragedy, drawing on a range of theories and ideas from across the humanities and social sciences.

Caitlyn Butler

Environmental engineer Caitlyn Butler’s research aims to make wastewater treatment more energy efficient. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she turned to wastewater as an epidemiological tool.

Charmaine A. Nelson

A trailblazing art historian specializing in Black diasporic art and visual culture, Charmaine A. Nelson strives to increase scholarship and awareness of the histories of slavery in Canada and the American North.

Elizabeth Evans

Public health researcher Elizabeth Evans has dedicated her career to understanding how healthcare systems and public policy can better serve vulnerable populations at risk for opioid and other substance abuse disorders.

Kirby Deater-Deckard

Psychologist Kirby Deater-Deckard conducts large-scale research studies around the world to understand variations in self-regulation, a key aspect of individual development.

David Cort

Combining a passion for equity with expertise in demographics, sociologist David Cort is dedicated to research on public health and residential stratification that can alleviate social problems in the U.S. and South Africa.

Shelly Peyton

Shelly Peyton leads an interdisciplinary and international group of UMass Amherst engineers and molecular cell biologists who bioengineer artificial materials and use them to study breast cancer and traumatic brain injury.

Monideepa Tarafdar

As one of the first scholars to identify and study technostress, Monideepa Tarafdar has influenced other scholars, companies, and governments with her work, from examining the dark and bright sides of social media use to understanding bias in artificial intelligence-based hiring.

Gretchen Gerzina

Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina has dedicated her career to illuminating the lives of others in biographies that bring to light unknown facets of the lives of well-known figures as well as the lives of those overlooked by history.

Professor Ramesh Sitaraman

Over the past two decades, Ramesh Sitaraman has helped keep the internet running through major world events and calamities—most recently, COVID-19.

Tatishe Nteta

Tatishe Nteta, director of the UMass Poll, conducts groundbreaking research on the underlying dynamics of political attitudes, opinions, and behaviors.

Laura Balzer

As the primary biostatistician for three cluster randomized trials in East Africa, Laura Balzer's work has had a great impact on the global effort to end HIV.

James Smethurst

A scholar of 20th-century African American literature, culture and intellectual history, James Smethurst's research interests includes the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

Jane Kent

For over two decades, kinesiologist Jane Kent has studied muscular decline associated with aging. She is interested in promoting behavioral changes to break the vicious cycle that leads to muscular breakdown.

Sabina Murray

Professor and fiction author Sabina Murray is inspired in her writing by histories, both public and private.

Stephane Willocq

Particle physicist Stephane Willocq is involved in the largest physics collaboration in the world as he works on the very small leads toward revolutionary breakthroughs in science and the search for new phenomena.

Paul Musgrave

Political scientist Paul Musgrave studies how domestic politics shape foreign policy, and frequently shares his research with media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, and Slate.

Jamila Lyiscott

As a professor of social justice education, Jamila Lyiscott has devoted her career to challenging the accepted notions of a pedagogy rooted in colonialism, with its emphasis on “civilizing” those from outside the traditional framework.

Britt Rusert

A published scholar of Black literature and culture, Britt Rusert's research addresses unique aspects of the history of racial science in the United States.

Rebecca Spencer

Director of the UMass Amherst Sleep Monitoring Lab Rebecca Spencer is working to solve the mysteries of sleep, with both medical and legislative implications.

Andrew McCallum

As founder and director of the UMass Center for Data Science, Andrew McCallum's pioneering work in machine learning, information extraction, and artificial intelligence has helped steer the center, and the university, to the forefront of data science research and development.

Alasdair Roberts

Alasdair Roberts brings a fascination with complex problem solving and an aptitude for clear-headed analysis to his study of policy making and governance.

Arindrajit Dube

Arindrajit "Arin" Dube is widely considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on the economic effects of minimum wage policies. His landmark research has challenged conventional wisdom on the subject.

Whitney Battle-Baptiste

As a historical archeologist focusing on the African Diaspora through the lens of race, gender, and class, Whitney Battle-Baptiste discovers ways to use archeological interpretation as a tool for social and political change.

Kevin L. Young

Kevin L. Young's innovative use of “big data” and seemingly endless appetite for rigorous analysis has made him one of his generation’s leading scholars of international political economy.