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Honors and Awards

Normanly, Budig, Sitaraman and Subbaswamy Honored for Scientific Contributions

The logo for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the preeminent scientific institution in the United States, the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the Science family of journals, has elected three professors and the former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst to the newest class of AAAS Fellows, among the most prestigious honors bestowed by the scientific community. 

This year’s honorees include Jennifer Normanly, professor and head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; Michelle Budig, professor of sociology and senior vice provost for faculty and academic affairs; Ramesh Sitaraman, Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science; and Kumble Subbaswamy, UMass Amherst’s immediate former chancellor, University of Massachusetts interim senior vice president for academic affairs, student affairs and equity and a former professor of physics.

Jennifer Normanly: Cutting-edge education at scale

Jennifer Normanly
Jennifer Normanly

Jennifer Normanly, who was elected “for distinguished contributions to the field of education, specifically for her role in institutional transformation of teaching practices towards inclusion and equity,” got her start in research as an undergraduate, when she marched into a faculty-member’s office and asked if she could work in his lab—not something often done at the time. It was a transformative experience for Normanly, and as she pursued advanced studies at CalTech she became one of the earliest researchers who deployed the automated synthesis of DNA. 

“We won’t see diversity in the next generation of scientists if we aren’t engaging all of our undergraduate STEM majors,” says Normanly. “When I was contemplating serving as the next head of the biochemistry and molecular biology department, I decided I want to have a positive impact on all of our undergraduate majors, which were rapidly increasing at the time.”

“This sparked my interest in the question that I have pursued throughout my career, both on the research and teaching fronts: how can you take things that are difficult to do manually or in small numbers and do them on a large scale?”

From automated DNA synthesis, her interest next took her to high-throughput analysis of the low-abundance, small molecules that regulate plant growth. 

Normanly, who has spent her entire faculty career at UMass Amherst, first became department head of biochemistry and molecular biology in 2011, and her immediate thought was how to give every undergraduate major the same kind of research experience that she had found so important for her own career. “BMB faculty all fervently believe that every undergraduate should have a research experience,” she says, “but how can you do that for the approximately 650 majors we have every year?” 

The answer was to team up with her colleagues in the College of Natural Sciences to acquire the necessary funding in order to adopt the SEA-PHAGES program, a two-semester, discovery-based undergraduate research course that gives students a wide variety of lab skills to better prepare them for future success as researchers. 

Normanly and her co-principal investigators were successful in securing a HHMI Inclusive Excellence project grant that allowed them to implement the SEA-PHAGES curriculum in the introductory Biology lab course that is required of approximately 1,200 undergraduates across multiple campus majors per year. She expanded on this initiative in her own department by working with BMB faculty to convert all of the required BMB lab courses into Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experiences, or CURES. The idea is to give every undergraduate major training in, and an authentic experience with, scientific research.

“The AAAS has been aware of the need to reform science education for a very long time in order to diversify STEM,” says Normanly. “It’s an honor to be recognized by them for my efforts at UMass Amherst to do just that.”

Michelle Budig: Sociologist of workplace inequality

Michelle Budig
Michelle Budig

Michelle Budig was honored by AAAS “for distinguished contributions to the field of sociology, particularly for research and scholarship on labor market inequalities, wage penalties for paid and unpaid caregiving, work-family policy and nonstandard employment.” She is also a respected administrator at UMass who works closely with the provost and campus leadership to support faculty career progression from recruitment to retirement. 

“I would say it’s not a common award among sociologists, so I was thrilled to receive the news. It is heartening,” Budig says. “The support and mentorship I’ve received was critical to the accomplishments this award recognizes—you don’t just do your work in a silo all by yourself, so I want to express my gratitude to the UMass community.”

Budig is best known for her research exploring the interface between work and families, and how paid and unpaid caregiving responsibilities affect women’s employment outcomes. Budig has studied the motherhood wage penalty for nearly 23 years, contributing to the body of research showing that, when accounting for all other variables, mothers earn less than women without children. She has also shown evidence of a fatherhood bonus: net of extensive controls, fathers tend to earn more than men with no children.

Budig notes that when she and Paula England of New York University Abu Dhabi published their first article on the topic in 2001, there was very little research into the wage impacts of family structure among women and men. “And now it’s a very large literature, so we know a lot more about which women incur this penalty to a stronger degree and what are the contextual factors that moderate the penalty,” she adds.

In addition to her scholarship, Budig has become a key campus voice on faculty development. What began as her service as chair of the sociology department in 2015 led to a role as a Chancellor’s Leadership Fellow, focusing on professional development for mid-career faculty and subsequently to her proposal for the Office of Faculty Development (OFD). Soon after, Budig became UMass Amherst’s vice provost for faculty development, leading the creation and launch of OFD in fall 2019.

“That was an amazing time in my career,” she recalls. “It’s probably the most fun I have had, both because the level of enthusiasm was so high and faculty really wanted all of the things that OFD could provide, and there was a strong commitment from the Provost’s Office to make it happen.”

Months later, COVID-19 hit and OFD played an integral role in helping faculty and their students navigate the pandemic, an experience Budig calls “really rewarding.”

In 2021, Budig was appointed to her present position, adding responsibilities related to department reviews and accreditation, and new programs and degrees, particularly launching new programs at the Mount Ida Campus. Though she has handed off day-to-day operation of OFD, it still falls under her purview, and faculty development at all career stages remains a passion. 

“I came to UMass as a new Ph.D. in 2001, so my whole professional career has been here, and for me, entering these administrative roles was really an opportunity to give back to an institution that gave me a job and supported me throughout my career,” Budig says. “I’ve really enjoyed making change and supporting faculty on the campus.”

Ramesh Sitaraman: Internet pioneer

Ramesh Sitaraman
Ramesh Sitaraman

Ramesh Sitaraman, Distinguished University Professor of Computer Science in the Manning College of Information and Computer Sciences, has spent his career helping to make the internet work in all the ways that many of us now take for granted. “By the late 1990s, the internet was being used for all sorts of things it wasn’t designed for—shopping, teleconferencing, streaming videos, etc.—and it wasn’t particularly reliable,” he says. 

That many of us today don’t think twice about our ability to make payments online, join a Zoom meeting, or stream our favorite show is a testament to Sitaraman’s work, and the AAAS has honored him “for distinguished contributions to distributed systems and algorithms, for pioneering work in internet content delivery and scalable edge-computing services, and for broadening computing education.”

One of Sitaraman’s most significant achievements was his pioneering work on content delivery networks, or CDNs. These networks, comprising hundreds of thousands of “edge” servers worldwide, are responsible for delivering web content, videos and applications to billions of internet users. “The last thing you want is for web pages to load slowly, videos to buffer, or mobile apps to be unresponsive,” Sitaraman explains. “CDNs, with their sophisticated algorithms, efficiently move and store data on the internet, preventing these undesirable outcomes.” Since Sitaraman’s work on building the first CDNs a quarter-century ago, they have become the backbone of the modern internet, handling most internet traffic today. 

Sitaraman’s work in content delivery led naturally to his role in building the first “edge computing” services a few years later. Edge computing speeds up internet applications by deploying them close to users. Instead of processing in centrally located servers—say, at Amazon’s corporate data center in Seattle—“computing at the edge” means distributing application processing to thousands of edge servers around the globe close to users. “The next frontier for our edge computing research is moving AI-powered applications to the edge, enabling billions of users to access intelligent services that are fast becoming integral to our daily lives,” says Sitaraman.

Perhaps the biggest internet challenge that Sitaraman sees is in sustainability. All those power-hungry servers spread all over the globe require a tremendous amount of energy, much of which is supplied by burning fossil fuels. “The holy grail is if you can run the internet entirely on renewables,” says Sitaraman, “but the sun is not always shining when you want to watch Netflix or access an AI-powered chatbot. Our goal is to redesign the internet so that, alongside speed and reliability, it is optimized for low-carbon usage.” 

Sitaraman is as innovative in the classroom as in the lab. He has received numerous teaching commendations, such as the university’s prestigious Distinguished Teaching Award. He is known for having taught a generation of computer scientists to “think algorithmically” using a distinctive method of inquiry based on the Socratic method.

“It’s about breaking a complex problem down into simpler steps,” says Sitaraman, “and then figuring out how to do each one of those steps most efficiently. I see algorithmic thinking as an important component of education,” he continues, “not just in computer science, but in all the disciplines across campus.”

Kumble Subbaswamy: Visionary leadership

Kumble Subbaswamy
Kumble Subbaswamy

Former UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who, over 11 years, led the commonwealth’s flagship public campus to unprecedented success and momentum, was chosen by the AAAS “for distinguished contributions in educational administration and to the field of physics, including visionary administrative leadership and innovation, as well as seminal contributions to physics basic research.”

A physicist by training, Subbaswamy’s research into the optical properties of novel materials and nonlinear excitations has resulted in more than 60 articles. He also coauthored a book on the local density theory of polarizability.

Academic leadership—across three other state universities in addition to UMass Amherst—is where Subbaswamy has left a mark that will last for generations. At UMass Amherst, he emerged as a popular and well-regarded chancellor for his pursuit of academic excellence, promotion of research and outreach, and initiatives aimed at addressing campus climate, diversity and culture. He has also made sustainability a campus priority and focused on strengthening community relationships, supporting area communities and increasing access to the university’s rich academic and research resources.

Subbaswamy oversaw the opening of new cutting-edge academic, research and athletic facilities, including the Commonwealth Honors College, the Integrative Learning Center, the Life Sciences Laboratories, a new physical sciences building, the Isenberg School of Management’s Business Innovation Hub, the Football Performance Center and a newly renovated Student Union. Additionally, Subbaswamy presided over UMass Amherst’s dramatic rise in the U.S. News and World Report Guide to Colleges rankings.

Before coming to Amherst, Subbaswamy served as provost at the University of Kentucky beginning in 2006. He joined Kentucky’s physics faculty in 1978 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Irvine. During his first 18 years at the University of Kentucky, he served as associate dean of arts and sciences and as chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Subbaswamy was also dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami from 1997 to 2000 and dean of arts and sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington from 2000 to 2006. 

“I am grateful to the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences for this multi-pronged honor, particularly in light of those who have come before me, and with me,” says Subbaswamy. “It has been my deep pleasure to advance the pursuit of and access to higher education at some of the country’s best public institutions.”