MassMutual and University of Vermont Partner On New Data Research Center

Oct 11, 2018

The University of Vermont recently announced an innovative partnership to establish the college’s first Center of Excellence, which will expand data science research on human wellness.

MassMutual Life Insurance Company is providing $5 million to establish the MassMutual Center of Excellence for Complex Systems and Data Science to research human wellness through data analysis. The new initiative will expand the university’s Vermont Complex Systems Center, which was created in 2009.  
MassMutual Chief Data Scientist Sears Merritt says the new center is intended to be the gold standard to answer human wellness questions.  “They take a very cross-disciplinary or maybe interdisciplinary approach to doing the science that’s associated with these things. So not only does that center focus on working with mathematicians and physicists and computer scientists, but they’re also focused on working with economists, folks in fields of medicine and other areas of social sciences. From our point of view it’s really only when you get these different groups together and focus on answering the questions through the lens of data science and complex systems are we really able you know to come up with answers.”

UVM Complex Systems Director Peter Dodds says the new partnership focuses on people-centered research that will help industry collate massive amounts of data to create holistic policies and benefits.  “So there’s some stuff where we’ll be able to say we think there’s a good basic science maybe about longevity or about how people move around the U.S. And then for MassMutual you know there are some more specific things about how to value people based on information. So for example they use blood tests right and so could a proxy be created? Can you replace a somewhat onerous invasive way of finding out information about people? Because ultimately you know they’re assessing risk. So there are aspects there that could help them. Then there’s also training of students.  It’s a capstone for our educational offerings building entirely new courses about data science or about complex systems.”

Merritt adds that the UVM Center will take a more modern approach with computational tools that can assess topics like the link between physical and financial health; detect bias and measure fairness and measure mortality risk.  “If we’re successful with answering some of these questions number one society as a whole I think stands to benefit. Our hypothesis is those benefits then trickle down into our industry and give consumers better access to products and services that are more tailored to their needs.  It gives you know society as a whole better information to think about how to craft policies and mechanisms that allow us to address behavioral aspects of what’s going on in our society, again, to better everybody’s lives and help folks live better.”

The $5 million will be provided over five years beginning in 2019.  It is the largest gift given to the University of Vermont to date by a corporate supporter.