The insurer’s second gift to CDS will support research into responsible use of data
Fortune 500 life insurer MassMutual has given the BU’s Faculty of Computing & Data Sciences (CDS) $3 million to support research into responsible use of data.
The gift also goes towards the CDS Foundation and long-term programming. It follows the company’s $1 million gift to the university’s newest academic unit last year.
“That [new] The gift will be crucial in supporting translational research by faculty and students – work focused on how results from basic research can be integrated into real-world products and systems,” says Azer Bestavros, BU Associate Provost for Computational and Engineering data science. “This type of applied work is difficult to fund through government-funded research, which tends to favor long-term basic research.”
MassMutual’s gift will contribute to a core mission of CDS: expanding participation in computing.
“Our motto here is to expand the pipeline and close the skills gap,” says Bestavros, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor and Professor of Computer Science at the College of Arts & Sciences, drawing attention to students studying STEM and computer science are underrepresented, such as women, black, Hispanic, and first-generation college students. “We want to ensure that these students are not disadvantaged due to a lack of previous knowledge by offering them qualification and internship opportunities. The MassMutual gift will help fund many of our related activities, which are primarily run by BU Spark! [an experience-based learning lab for computer science and engineering, now housed at CDS].”
“We are immensely grateful,” said BU President Robert A. Brown, “for the commitments MassMutual has made to the Department of Computer Science and Data Science. This new – and very generous – gift is a power multiplier for our researchers who are looking for ways to apply research to pressing problems and expand access to the field.”
MassMutual has begun working with BU on several initiatives funded by the donation, says Adam Fox, MassMutual’s head of data. These include developing data-driven methods to identify cyber threats and “learning transfer,” where researchers will apply MassMutual’s insights into US health and longevity to populations around the world.
“Data plays a critical role in the insurance and financial services industry,” says Fox. “It is used across all of MassMutual’s business processes to assess risk, streamline our operations and optimize our investment portfolios. Effective data governance is essential to ensure that data and the decisions based on the data are of the best quality and produce the best outcomes.
“BU’s approach to data science and governance aligns with MassMutual’s values and strategic interests. For example, BU emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach that emphasizes collaborative research. We are particularly pleased about the partnership between CDS and the [BU School of] Law, as we believe it will be valuable in developing policies and processes for responsible data use,” notes Fox. “We also appreciate the work BU has done to include students from historically underrepresented groups. This is a new source of talent that can help us continue to thrive in a digital world.”
Among the research that MassMutual’s gift will support is the CDS Hub’s work for Civic Tech Impact. The CDS hub “examines the social, ethical, legal, and commercial implications of data science,” says its director, Mayank Varia, an associate CDS professor.
“Our faculty and students conduct cutting-edge research into ways we can use data to empower people and lead to a more democratic society,” says Varia. “We also identify, warn [about]and seek to mitigate data science techniques that have the potential to harm individuals and marginalized groups.”
Bestavros says that the development of the hub’s democratic computational methods is “increasingly critical to healthy civil society, as well as to evaluating these technologies in legal, regulatory and social contexts. This is an area of great interest for companies like MassMutual, which are trying to use data responsibly,” for example through their three-year-old operation, “to improve insights and decision-making across the enterprise by democratizing data and AI models.”
The gift comes as BU prepares to open the new Center for Computer and Data Science, the future home of CDS, later this year. The tallest building on campus, the 19-story center at 305 feet tall, will also house the faculties of mathematics, statistics and computer science, as well as the university’s Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering.
Last year’s $1 million donation from Mass Mutual – CDS’ first partnership – enabled the recruitment of a professor with industry experience to teach and research; diversity, equity and inclusion efforts; and a half-dozen $10,000 scholarships for undergraduate students.
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