Conversation with Anne Maglia, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation

Anne Maglia was promoted to Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at UMass Lowell in July 2022. Maglia served as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Administration and Integrity since 2016 and played a central role in elevating the university’s research enterprise, including increasing total research and development expenditures by more than $26 million.

Prior to joining UMass Lowell, she served at the National Science Foundation as a science advisor and program director for large biological infrastructure such as the $460 million National Ecological Observatory Network.

We recently sat down with Vice Chancellor Maglia to discuss her new role and her plans to elevate UMass Lowell to a top national Research 1 (R1) university.

What are you most excited about starting in your new role?

I’m looking forward to expanding resources and opportunities for our researchers. We have anticipated our growth over the years so we have a solid foundation in place for implementing ideas and initiatives that will propel us to the next stage of research productivity. At the same time, I’m listening to our researchers to learn their needs to ensure we are all able to conduct our work effectively. My new role provides a greater ability to advocate for them.

I am also excited about forming new relationships and cultivating existing ones with academic, industry, government and community partners. We know we can make bigger impacts by aligning with organizations that share our values and goals, and we’re thinking creatively about ways we can collaborate to have real impacts like bringing inventions to market and effecting policy change.

You mentioned anticipating research growth, which has certainly come to fruition. Research activity and expenditures have grown substantially over the past decade. What would you attribute to this success?

We have outstanding faculty, students, and staff who are committed to doing great research. They are creative, smart, pragmatic and incredibly hard working. Our people aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves.

UMass Lowell has also built a culture of truly interdisciplinary approaches to research and innovation, including tackling societal challenges. Our Research and Engagement Centers are a great reflection of this. These centers combine experts from across fields to ensure we’re taking a holistic approach to discovery and viewing challenges from all angles.

We also have a strong (and growing) university commitment to providing resources for researchers such as better start-up packages for new faculty, new CRF equipment, and building and renovating for state-of-the-art buildings and facilities. We’re also growing our “soft” infrastructure of research support including enhancing our central research administration team, adding more college-specific research administrators and providing more proposal support and professional development activities.

How does UMass Lowell become a R1 University?

If we continue to grow (in both research expenditures and Ph.D. graduates) as we have over the last six years, we will likely reach R1 without changing many of our current processes and initiatives. I think the bigger question is how we are going to achieve this goal in a way that benefits the entire campus, is sustainable, and provides new positive opportunities for our faculty and students. We know that will require additional investments in research infrastructure while maintaining our campus culture and teaching excellence.

Are there any new initiatives you are planning to introduce to help UMass Lowell reach R1?

We are in the early stages of strategic planning for our continued research growth, including attaining R1 status. The working groups in our strategic planning committee have been tasked with figuring out how we continue to grow comfortably and sustainably. An early goal for me is to find ways to support Chancellor Chen’s visions of research growth, external partnerships, and student experiential learning. I anticipate that the strategic planning groups will provide many great ideas for how we accomplish these goals.

Student experiential learning is a large part of Chancellor Julie Chen’s visions for UMass Lowell, providing paid career experiences for all students. How do you see the role of research in this endeavor?

I think research can have a great impact here, and I can speak from experience. I’m a first-gen college student and struggled with finding a major that stuck. I eventually quit school and worked in the family restaurant. In my first semester back after deciding to return to college, I took a course that led me to complete a paid independent research experience. I loved it, and I finally found a direction and my passion for biology and research.

Much of my motivation for growing UMass Lowell’s externally sponsored research portfolio is so that we can provide funded research opportunities to any student who wants to participate, especially those for whom a research experience could help them enrich their learning, develop hands-on skills, build self-confidence, and find their career path.

What is the most important thing you have learned or honed that has helped prepare you for your new role?

I think the most important thing for me is to be compassionate and put people first. While it feels great to achieve goals, being kind and helping others succeed is really what makes work feel worthwhile to me. Focusing on people makes other things feel a little less important, and that makes it easier for me not to stress too much over the small stuff.

Finding Stories of Minority Groups in Video Games

Rebecca Richards, associate professor in the Department of English, wants women, queer folk and people of color to know that there is a space for them in the video game community.

While Richards acknowledges the misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and racism that exists in game culture, she is interested in studying the rhetoric of video games that are telling a different story. When Richards examines video games as a part of her research, she looks at the ways in which players receive and interact with the text, storylines, visuals and modes of play to create meaning.

Currently working on her new book entitled Not Playing Around: Feminist and Queer Rhetorics in Video Games, Richards studies how video games create rhetorical actions that may lead to empathy, learning, and socialization outside of the virtual space. More so, she sees a strong potential for video games to include writing and stories that involve the experiences of minority groups.

For example, in one of her recent articles that her new book will expand upon, Richards details the act of “stealth” in video games as a means to simulate how women must sneak past or around national gender norms and rules, as true in the physical world. When a character in a video game is stealthing, they are hiding from and eluding authorities and systems that are in opposition to the character.

Richards explains that in République, a video game that takes place in a dystopian setting, the female protagonist, Hope, is trying to navigate out of a detention center, and the game player takes on the role of a hacker of the facility’s technology in order to support her escape.

“Stealthing in gameplay requires patience and interpreting different signs, and it’s feminized. It’s not aggro (engaging in violence). Stealthing means knowing that people don’t want you to exist and figuring out a way to exist in spite of that,” says Richards.

Considering the format of the game and role of the player in supporting the protagonist with unique approaches opposite to the overtly violent behaviors in a multitude of games, Richards argues that the player can develop empathy for women, immigrants and detainees in the context of the real world.

In addition to stealthing, Richards is also exploring “indie games,” independent games that are more often known for their ability to employ creative freedoms, and the reasons why queer and feminist rhetoric have found a home in the space. Overall, she is examining the power of whose stories are being told, how they are being told and the ways in which these stories are perceived by the audience.

As Richards continues to conduct research for her book, she is also looking forward to finally arriving on campus to begin teaching in-person classes at UMass Lowell. Richards started in her new position during the global pandemic in June 2020 after almost ten years as a professor at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She is especially excited to teach her “Writing About Video Games” course in Spring 2022 where her students will have the opportunity to play and analyze video games.

“People often recoil when I ask them if they play video games, especially those in minority groups. I want to encourage all people to have fun and build community with video games as a part of their regular media diet. I would like to demystify how women, queer folk and people of color are playing games and where they are finding inspiration and joy, and helping others find that joy too,” says Richards.

Francis College of Engineering: Research and Innovation Updates

FCE Guest Piece – Distributed April 2, 2021

Gu recieves 5-year NSF CAREER Award
Mechanical Engineering Department Asst. Prof. Yan Gu (PI) has won a five-year NSF (National Science Foundation) CAREER award in the amount of $564,702. This CAREER project, titled “CAREER: A Hybrid Filtering and Robust Control Framework for Legged Robot Locomotion on Dynamic Rigid Surfaces”, will create a model-based control framework that could empower legged robots to negotiate complex, dynamic human environments (that are prohibitively challenging for wheeled or tracked robots) to allow them to aid in numerous critical high-risk applications, such as shipboard firefighting and fire suppression as well as cleaning/disinfection of public transportation vehicles to contain the spread of infectious diseases.

Assistant Prof. Yan Gu joined UMass Lowell in September 2017. Gu’s group research interests are modeling, analysis, and control of robot locomotion, especially legged robot locomotion. Her research goal is to achieve versatile, stable, agile, and energy-efficient robot locomotion in unknown complex environments. She is also interested in applying robotics knowledge and skills to revealing the fundamental principles of human and animal locomotion biomechanics as well as investigating robot-assisted human walking.

The CAREER research program seeks to solve fundamental problems in legged locomotion control so as to lay a foundation for the development of next-generation legged robot systems capable of autonomous navigation on nonstationary surfaces.

The CAREER education program will enhance the robotics curriculum at the University of Massachusetts Lowell while engaging diverse groups, including underrepresented undergraduate and graduate students, K-12 students, and the general public, in robotics education and research.
Maiaru receives 3-year NASA Award
Assistant Professor Marianna Maiaru recently received a three-year, $750k NASA Program titled “ICME Optimization of Advanced Composite Components of the Aurora D8 Aircraft”. 

Within this project, Dr. Maiaru will lead a team of experts from government, industry, and other universities including, NASA, Aurora Flight Sciences, HyperSizer, and Michigan Technological University. This highly specialized award is the second project ever sponsored on Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) of Composites and sets UML as a leader in the new field of ICME of composites. 

Assistant Professor Maiaru joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at UMass Lowell in the fall of 2016. Her doctoral work, performed as a collaboration between the Turin Polytechnic Institute and the University of Michigan, resulted in the development of computationally light multi-scale approaches for the progressive failure analysis of fiber-reinforced composite structures using higher-order Finite Element Methods. Before joining the faculty at UMass Lowell, Maiaru was a Research Associate in the William E. Boeing Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics at the University of Washington and, before that, a Research Associate in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan. 

UMass Lowell Researchers Work Toward a Greener Economy

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded UMass Lowell researchers $1.8 million to develop recyclable plastics and manufacturing technologies to help the country reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and improving its environmental sustainability.

The grant is funded through the REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership created by the DOE to help the U.S. move toward what’s known as a “circular economy,” in which waste is eliminated as much as possible by continually reusing and recycling resources.

The UMass Lowell project will seek ways to improve the recycling of plastic films from industrial and consumer goods that typically end up in landfills. The research aims to create new uses for plastic waste and possibilities for the re-manufacturing of sustainable products. Innovative plastics-processing technologies developed by the researchers and industrial partners would create opportunities for manufacturers across the country. Davide Masato, assistant professor of plastics engineering, is leading the project with Margaret Sobkowicz-Kline, associate professor of plastics engineering.

“UMass Lowell has been a partner with REMADE since the institute’s founding in 2017. As a nationally recognized research university for plastics engineering and manufacturing, UMass Lowell leads the way in advocating and promoting increased efforts by the U.S. plastics industry to adopt more sustainable manufacturing practices,” said Prof. Sobkowicz-Kline.

Industry partners working with UMass Lowell on the project include SER North America LLC, a material supplier which focuses on sustainable plastics, along with iMFLUX Inc., a P&G company that develops injection molding innovations in support of sustainable manufacturing. This research collaboration will provide UMass Lowell engineering students opportunities to work closely with engineers at the partner companies.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, manufacturing accounts for 25% of U.S. energy consumption at a cost of approximately $150 billion. The industry is the third-largest contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions in the nation at 22%, according to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. REMADE and its partners are working to reduce those numbers, while creating new, clean-economy jobs, according to REMADE Chief Executive Officer Nabil Nasr, who said the UMass Lowell project will move the U.S. closer to achieving the nation’s environmental and manufacturing targets.

“Our mission is to reduce energy consumption and decrease emissions while increasing the country’s manufacturing competitiveness. Our experts are working diligently to reach these critically important goals and, in the process, accelerate the U.S.’s transition to a circular economy,” Nasr said.
Stapleton Receives NASA TTT Project Award
Mechanical Engineering Assistant Professor, Scott Stapleton, Ph.D.,and Computer Science Assistant Professor Farhad Pourkamali, Ph.D.,recently received a three-year, $518k project award entitled “Multi-Scale models based on Machine Learning and a Fiber Network Model”, funded through the NASA “Transformational Tools and Technologies (TTT)” project, Subtopic: “Ultra Efficient Multiscale Methods and Methodologies”.

Dr. Stapleton joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Lowell as an Assistant Professor in the Fall of 2015. Before joining the faculty at UMass Lowell, Dr. Stapleton was first exposed to composites research while he was earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Utah, as well as a Masters and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Michigan, funded by NASA Glenn Research Center to create a novel finite element tool to predict the behavior of adhesively bonded joints. After graduating, he worked for two years at the Institute of Textile Technology at RWTH Aachen University in Germany as the head of the Simulation of Composites research group. He then spent a year at the Institute of Applied Mechanics at RWTH Aachen University where his research focused on modeling textile-reinforced tissue-engineered heart valves.