Forward—Innovating Toward a Better Future
Exploring UMass innovation points of pride
3,600 real-world courses adapted to online platforms? Check.
Outdoor tents and the social distancing of thousands of students? Check.
Breadth and depth of continuing quality contributions to a changed world? Check.
From entire departments to specific individuals, on campus and in the wider world, UMass takes pride in its ongoing innovative spirit.
Since 2005, the Innovation Challenge has awarded more than $1.1 million to over 380 student- and alumni-led startups. The annual series of competitions, run by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship, is designed to launch promising ventures. Bac-Be-Gone, a startup that developed an organic nontoxic cleaning agent with the power to kill the deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA, was named a winner in 2020. Hadley Beauregard, a member of the award-winning team (that also included Hailey Charest and Bryanna Lexus Freitas ’20) says the team decided to enter the competition with a simple idea for making the world better with their research. “Here’s to disinfectant wipes and women in STEM!”
For six consecutive years UMass has appeared on The Princeton Review Guide to Green Colleges. The 2021 review profiled 416 “green” colleges and universities, based on its 2019–20 sustainability survey of administrators at 695 institutions. According to the review, UMass demonstrated “exemplary commitments to the environment and sustainability,” including 25 undergraduate majors that are sustainability related.
“UMass has been a pioneer in providing support,” says Genny Beemyn, director of the UMass Amherst Stonewall Center, an LGBTQIA+ Resource Center, noting that the center was only the third of its kind on a college campus when it opened in 1995. The national youth support and advocacy organization Campus Pride has again recognized UMass as one of the top 40 campuses in the country for LGBTQIA+ students. “Our programs help students feel a sense of belonging on campus, which contributes to their well-being and to their retention,” Beemyn says.
When the threat of COVID-19 initially shut down the UMass campus in March 2020, researchers found it impossible to sit on their hands. Peter Reinhart, director of the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, says, “People were very excited about helping in this crisis both nationally and very locally.” His initial call for campus volunteers resulted in the formation of more than a dozen COVID-19 Response Teams, each harnessing the university’s talent and facilities to actively address the crisis. One team designed and produced 100,000 face shields for local medical groups, including Cooley Dickinson Hospital and Baystate Medical Center, within just a few weeks’ time.
Once again, the UMass Amherst Department of Food Science is ranked number one in the United States, and seventh in the world, according to the 2020 Global Ranking of Academic Subjects. The department is a global leader in research on food nanotechnology, food safety, the gut microbiome, and other areas. UMass food science alums rank highly too. Take Natalia Butler ’12MS—she joined the Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Guru team in 2016. “I learn something pretty much every day,” says Butler. “I am one of the lucky ones that gets to develop ice cream for the entire world.”
Research expenditures at the UMass Amherst campus rose to more than $223 million for fiscal year 2019, continuing a growth trend that makes the UMass system the fourth-largest research university in New England, behind only Harvard, MIT, and Yale. Researchers’ projects receive funding from the federal government, nonprofits, and industry.
A paper by Armstrong/Siadat Endowed Professor Nianqiang “Nick” Wu in the Chemical Engineering Department was cited a whopping 2,800 times in a single year. Wu was featured on the esteemed research analysis group Clarivate’s 2020 “Highly Cited Researchers” list along with eight other UMass faculty.
At least 4,500 UMass alumni have founded and run their own businesses. Functional fashion company Caraa (Aaron Luo ’04), menstrual supply company TOP the organic project (Thyme Sullivan ’91), and indie-boosting Bookshop.org (Andy Hunter ’94) are just a few examples of how the drive and curiosity to bring innovations to market runs strong in our alumni ranks.