November 15th, 2023
BURLINGTON – Advancing its groundbreaking partnership with University of Vermont’s (UVM) Complex Systems Center, Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual) announced today a $4.25-million extension of funding for the MassMutual Center of Excellence for Complex Systems and Data Science. This gift will broaden a growing portfolio of world-class research projects focused on improving human wellness through data analytics.
“The University appreciates the continued support from MassMutual for this innovative research,” said UVM President Suresh Garimella. “Health and wellness is an area of strength and distinction for UVM, both in educating tomorrow’s professionals and in the cutting-edge interdisciplinary research conducted on our campus. Projects such as these bring to life UVM’s mission of transforming ideas into real-world solutions with positive impacts that reverberate far and wide.”
The funding, to be provided over the next five years, will allow the MassMutual Center to expand data-centered research projects exploring physical and mental health, algorithmic fairness, and data visualization, as well innovative new projects that dovetail with the Center’s existing strengths in areas such as cyber security and measurement methodologies.
“We are incredibly grateful to continue what has proven to be a very successful partnership with MassMutual,” said Peter Dodds, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at UVM and director of the University’s Complex Systems Center. “Our research has been highly collaborative with the data scientists at MassMutual guided by our shared interest in helping people live healthier, more enjoyable lives. We embrace a common culture of care.”
MassMutual’s renewal of the Center of Excellence funding is one of several large initiatives under the company’s Health and Wellness Program, which provides policyowners with both a deeper understanding of potential health risks and new, cutting-edge tools to help them lead longer and healthier lives.
“For more than 170 years, MassMutual has prioritized our policyowners, helping them secure their future and protect the ones they love,” said Sears Merritt, Head of Enterprise Technology and Experience, MassMutual. “One more way we can deliver this value is by empowering them with knowledge about their health through new tools, offerings and research, including the collaboration with UVM that we’re excited to continue growing. Creating knowledgeable policyowners helps them and us.”
Beyond the renewed gift to fund projects at the MassMutual Center of Excellence, another key marker of the partnership between UVM and MassMutual is the multi-year study incentivizing healthy behaviors called the Lived Experiences Measured Using Rings Study (LEMURS). Starting in the Fall of 2022, more than 600 UVM student volunteers were recruited to continuously monitor their heart rate, activity, and sleep using Oura rings—a health tracking wearable device. In addition, the study assessed changes in students’ sleep patterns, stress, mental health, and other variables through a series of weekly surveys moderated on a companion app codeveloped for the project by scientists at MassMutual.
This past Spring, the students were randomly placed into four groups to explore the correlations of wellness interventions such as exercise, group therapy, or time spent in nature on reducing levels of stress and anxiety. Initial findings after over 10 million health related measurements during the 6-month period has shown that nightly respiratory rates are significantly associated with stress during the first semester of college for participating students.
The interdisciplinary nature of the research being conducted involves a broad spectrum of backgrounds such as medicine, psychology, and electrical engineering. Chris Danforth, Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at UVM and core faculty member at the Center of Excellence, added commentary on students with diverse backgrounds who become interested in this course of study and research at UVM: “We can recruit students whose experiences do not align with traditional undergraduate STEM pathways and provide them with time and resources to employ data science for the public good. The broader partnership has even yielded benefits in talent development for MassMutual with five recent UVM graduates going to work for the company.”