Higher Education a Driver in Commonwealth’s Big Data Leadership
Sears Merritt | August 29, 2016
Innovation: The Commonwealth has grown and established a rich ecosystem of companies, both large and small, that are choosing to innovate through the expanded use of data analytics. Whether in the life sciences, cyber security, or financial services, companies in Massachusetts are creating data-driven products and services that are fundamentally changing the way entire industries operate around the world.
Talent: Massachusetts is a known center of talent. The Massachusetts higher education system is home to some of the best academic institutions in the world. Every year, research institutions produce new knowledge that advances the state of the art and provides fertile ground for commercial innovation. In addition to this, academic institutions are also generating a steady pipeline of budding young professionals thirsty for industry knowledge, new advanced skills, and the opportunity to work on compelling problems that benefit our society.
To scale up and drive innovation and talent generation in the areas of big data, digital, and data science at MassMutual, we have invested in long term initiatives with two of the country’s leading women’s colleges, Mount Holyoke College and Smith College. Beginning during the 2015 fall semester, the MassMutual Women in Data Science program is providing $2 million over the course of four years to support the hiring of five visiting faculty positions and the development of data science-focused classes in order to create a strong talent pipeline in western Massachusetts of women in the big data sector. Earlier in 2014, in collaboration with professors at UMASS Amherst, Smith College, and Mt. Holyoke College, we created a 3 year data science development program that combines academic rigor, through the completion of a graduate degree, with real-world problem solving and professional development through a full-time, salaried position in MassMutual’s data science organization.
An equation being worked out on the whiteboard at the Mass Mutual Data Science Lab in Amherst, MA
In addition to this, through our recently established MassMutual foundation, we provided the University of Massachusetts Amherst with $15 million over the course of 10 years to support scaling and growing its world-class data science and cybersecurity research and education programs in Western Massachusetts. The award includes $12 million in funding to expand data-science courses and support additional faculty at the UMass Amherst Center for Data Science as well as $3 million to bolster a cybersecurity certificate program over the course of 10 years at the university center in Springfield. This gift is meant to ensure that the Commonwealth will continue to be at the forefront of these fundamental areas.
These higher education initiatives are generating data-centric, top talent and novel technologies that support innovation in data science at MassMutual, spanning the spectrum of problems and open research questions, including instantaneous assessment of life insurance risk, detection of fraudulent activity, policyholder retention, and portfolio allocation strategies, among many others.
We believe that providing these types of educational and research opportunities to students and institutions within our state is fundamental to maintaining and growing Massachusetts’ leadership role in the big data and data science space.
Sears Merritt, Vice President of Data Science at MassMutual
As Chief Data Scientist, Sears leads the Data Science Program at MassMutual. In various roles, including engineer, researcher, and technology advisor, he has spent the past 12 years working with data and big data systems in industry and academia. Sears holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science, an M.S. in Telecommunications and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering all from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He has also earned expert level IT certifications in networking (CCIE), project management (PMP), and security (CISSP).