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Around the Pond


A black and white photo of a group of people wearing 1970s clothing.

The nine original faculty members of the Department of Afro-American Studies at its founding in 1970: Allan Austin, Johnnetta Cole, Playthell Benjamin, Ivanhoe Donaldson, Cherif Guellal, Femi Richards, Esther Terry, Michael Thelwell, and Ben Wambari. Photo by Ed Cohen.

Mapping ‘Black Presence’

UMass Amherst launched the Black Presence initiative in 2021 to document and honor the contributions of Black alumni, students, faculty, and staff—and to bring the past into the present. Through oral history interviews and research on historical figures, the project strives to capture an authentic and in-depth understanding of their lived experiences.

The initiative is a cross-campus collaboration led by Professor John H. Bracey Jr. of the W. E. B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies. The oral histories currently on the site were primarily recorded by Bracey and graduate student Erika Slocumb ’13, ’16MS, ’24PhD, as well as students in the Black Presence at UMass course.

Slocumb views the initiative as a way to connect the past, present, and future at UMass. “In my time at UMass, I really didn’t understand what community looked like for Black folks historically,” Slocumb says. “Each new cohort of Black students has to find each other and build that sense of community.”

The initiative is meant to be a living resource, with new interviews, profiles, and news added on an ongoing basis. Students, staff, faculty, and alumni are all encouraged to submit items of interest.

“The importance of this project is really to create a sense of hope and belonging for Black folks,” Slocumb adds. “We don’t have to recreate it because there is already a road map for us.”

Submit your own story about Black life at UMass through the Black Presence Project.



Engineering a better world

The College of Engineering celebrates 75th anniversary

The world has changed a lot over the last 75 years, and the College of Engineering has been there through it all. Established in 1947, the college has become one of the most revolutionary and transformative engineering programs in the world.

Many engineering alumni have gone on to make important contributions to the field—and the world. Two of those alumni were recently recognized with UMass Alumni Honors awards for their accomplishments. Lifetime Achievement Award winner Deepak Chopra ’73 earned his master of science in semiconductor electronics at UMass Amherst and went on to create and lead OSI Systems Inc. in 1987. Designing and manufacturing specialized electronic systems for homeland security, health care, defense, and aerospace, OSI is a leader in the electronics industry.

During her time at UMass Amherst, Outstanding Young Alumni Award winner Sade Luwoye ’15 majored in electrical engineering and minored in mathematics, and was president of the student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers for the 2014–15 academic year. She is now a senior specialist systems engineer at L3Harris Technologies, a defense contractor and information technology services provider. Luwoye also hosts the Win in STEM podcast, which highlights and advises people of color in STEM and has listeners in more than 30 countries.

Read more about the College’s history and accomplishments at the special 75th anniversary website.



Running on renewables

In December 2021, a brand-new electric Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) bus, operated by UMass Transit, hit the roads of the UMass Amherst campus and the surrounding communities. One of four buses brought in to replace the oldest in the fleet, it can drive up to 230 miles between charges. As of this writing, it has carried more than 22,000 passengers over 8,200 miles—translating to 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel saved.

By 2023, the PVTA plans to replace at least two more old, diesel-dependent buses with electric ones in an effort to move toward increased sustainability, improved local air quality, and a reduced carbon footprint.

News update: In August 2022, the PVTA was selected to be awarded approximately $54 million in Low or No Emissions and Bus & Bus Facilities funds from the federal Department of Transportation. The funds will upgrade power feeds to the bus facilities so they can charge more electric buses, expand repair and maintenance facilities, and pave the way to eventually replace diesel buses, with the goal of accommodating a 100% electric bus fleet serving the Five Colleges and surrounding area. Sandra Sheehan at the PVTA noted, “This is a large award for a system our size, so we are all very excited.”