Around the Pond
A glimpse of late-pandemic student life, and more
The future of fun
When the pandemic started, students weren’t able to gather in person, but that didn’t mean the fun had to stop. Student activities shifted online—everything from fitness classes to trivia nights and beyond. Now, with campus opened up again, what does the future of student programming look like?
As students return to in-person activities, they’ll see some old favorites like the annual Arcade Night and Food Truck Festival, made fresh by the sparkling new Student Union building. But that’s not the only change. “Returning students will see some remixed iterations of our usual programs on campus,” says Pete Smith, director of Student Affairs and Campus Life Communications and Professional Development. For example, esports—a form of competitive video gaming—has proven to be popular and will be incorporated into future events.
“We don’t want to abandon all virtual practices,” says Smith, since bringing events online did make programming more accessible to many students. “We will make sure to support our remote communities, providing spaces for engagement in the virtual world.”
UMass commemorates Pentagon Papers’ 50th anniversary
Long before Chelsea Manning, WikiLeaks, and Edward Snowden, there was Daniel Ellsberg. Fifty years ago, the military analyst turned whistleblower exposed shocking truths about the United States’ engagement in Vietnam in a leaked dossier known as the “Pentagon Papers.”
In 2019 the UMass Special Collections and University Archives acquired Ellsberg’s papers, and this spring, the university explored the impact of his work in the conference “Truth, Dissent, and the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg.” This two-day virtual event featured 30 presenters, including historians, activists, journalists, formal policy makers, and Ellsberg himself.
In a historic pairing, the conference featured a virtual discussion between Ellsberg and fellow whistleblower Edward Snowden, moderated by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman. In that dialogue, Ellsberg and Snowden described their respective paths to dissent—and grounded their actions in the tradition of civil disobedience.
The conference was the culmination of a year-long seminar taught by history professor Christian Appy and journalism professor Kathy Roberts Forde. The seminar students—who spent the past academic year immersed in Ellsberg’s papers—presented their research and findings at the conference, an experience that Grace Simmons ’22 counts among the most impactful of her academic career. “I’ve always been drawn to activism, but this experience taught me how social justice intersects with research,” she says. “And in this case, we literally had our hands on history.”
In addition to the year-long seminar and culminating conference, UMass partnered with Charles Sennott ’84 in developing a five-part series recounting Ellsberg’s experiences as a whistleblower for the tenth season of Sennott’s award-winning GroundTruth Project podcast. The podcast, titled The Whistleblower: Truth, Dissent and the Legacy of Daniel Ellsberg, tracks Ellsberg’s decision to leak classified Pentagon documents and contend with explosive blowback, including the threat of a 115-year prison sentence. “Ellsberg’s courage as a truth teller speaks to a time when it feels like truth is eroding all around us,” says Sennott on his podcast website. “We need to be reminded that dissent can be the ultimate expression of patriotism.”
Many of us grew up hearing that video games would rot our brains, but as it turns out, some games may actually benefit them. Sunghoon Ivan Lee, assistant professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences, recently received a grant for approximately $436,000 from the National Institutes of Health to study the use of “serious games” to improve the brain function of older adults with mild cognitive impairment.
Lee is developing a platform to motivate patients to follow a therapeutic regimen of playing Neuro-World, a collection of six simple tablet games, on their own at home. In one game that’s designed to stimulate short-term memory using visual information, animals enter and leave the screen, and players must identify in which direction the animals left. Other games focus on stimulating selective attention.
In a small pilot study, Lee and his colleagues found that Neuro-World games could not only improve stroke survivors’ cognitive function but also predict their expected improvement. The findings are exciting given that, as Lee says, “There aren’t many solutions to stimulate cognitive ability in people with cognitive disabilities, especially in their homes, outside clinical settings.”