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Around the Pond

Casey Thornbrugh

John Solem

Tribal Climate Science Liaison

With 30 tribes in his purview, spanning the East Coast and Gulf Coast, from Maine to Florida to Texas, Casey Thornbrugh is the new tribal climate science liaison for the Northeast Climate Science Center (NECSC) hosted by UMass Amherst. 

The NECSC belongs to a federal network of eight centers covering different climate regions, funded by the Department of the Interior, created to provide scientific information about, and tools and techniques to adapt to, climate change. 

 “Indigenous peoples are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, due to the place-based nature of tribal nations,” explains Thornbrugh, who is a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe. “Any environmental damage to the land or waterways or relocation of indigenous communities in the face of climate impacts, such as sea-level rise and flooding, is quite traumatic, because these are relationships to place that are thousands of years old.”

Coastal nations, for example, can be particularly affected by salt water inundation that can harm culturally important crops like sweetgrass and red juniper. There is also the brutal hit of changing climate patterns: in Maine, moose ticks once killed off by spring snow pack are now returning for multiple generations, resulting in infestations that are severely weakening the immunity of native moose—a species particularly important to tribes in the Northeast. 

Thornbrugh’s role promotes a beneficial two-way communication: “We have climate information, but the tribal nations have local knowledge, and that’s something you also need to get a whole picture of what’s going on.”

Laura Marjorie Miller




Distinguished scientist and professor Andrew McCallum, director of the Center for Data Science at UMass Amherst, will lead a new partnership with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). The center received a $5.5 million grant to create a free artificial intelligence tool that will help scientists stay current on research and make it easier to find connections among findings in genetics, diseases, drugs, and treatment. CZI is the philanthropy founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan (pictured here with McCallum).




John W. Olver Design Building
John Solem


The new UMass Amherst design building has been named the John W. Olver Design Building in honor of the retired congressman and former UMass Amherst chemistry professor. During his more than 44 years as a federal and state lawmaker, Olver was a strong supporter and ally of the campus and played a key role in the planning and development of the new building. The Olver building’s innovative mass-timber structure continues to garner accolades. It was named the U.S. Building of the Year by World-Architects and praised in a Wall Street Journal article citing the best architecture of 2017.



Students for the Student Union

The Student Union Building, the hardworking home of student organizations and extracurriculars for 60-plus years, will be renovated thanks to a vote by undergraduates. Students approved a fee increase to provide half the funding for a $50 million renovation. The other half will be a capital expenditure by the university. The Student Union serves more than 200 Registered Student Organizations and several student businesses. Updates will include a “Main Street”-style promenade with stores, student services, and dining; a new entry and outdoor plaza; and a media center for the Daily Collegian, UVC-TV 19, and WMUA.