Writing in the Wild

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UMass nursing snags grant for sleep and stress research


The goal is to use data to enable patients to take charge of their symptoms.

UMass Life Sciences Building (Allyson Morin/Amherst Wire)

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing has begun researching fatigue and stress management in chronic illness patients after receiving a $1.23 million research grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research earlier this year.

Stress and fatigue are detrimental to people experiencing chronic illness and can prolong or worsen their symptoms. Poor rest and high stress can also cause various symptoms such as weight gain, anxiety and magnification of pain — particularly in individuals suffering from chronic illnesses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

UMass was one of only six research centers nationwide to receive this grant, according to Cynthia Jacelon, a professor of nursing.

The UMass College of Nursing used the grant to create the “UManage Center,” an umbrella term that refers to the interdisciplinary team working on the project. The team hopes to create a physical space for the UManage Center in the coming years.

“The hope is to move in the direction to create a physical space. We want to involve the community with focus groups targeted on sleep and fatigue,” said Annette Wysocki, the assistant dean for research at the College of Nursing.

The grant will also fund 10 interdisciplinary pilot research studies over the next five years. Innovative sleep monitoring devices are at the center of this research study.

“We want to use technology to help inform people so they can figure out how to self-manage their symptoms,” Wysocki said.

The research aims to help patients better manage their symptoms between hospital and doctor visits.

Chronic illness patients experience between four and ten symptoms, according to Wysocki, which complicates treatment efforts. Developing new technologies will help patients better understand their symptoms at home.

The nurse-led interdisciplinary teams will collaborate with other on-campus departments and use the laboratories and equipment in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences on campus.

The grant will provide UMass nursing students real-world opportunities to gain experience in the medical field.

“It is going to, if successful … enhance the amount of work that faculty can do in this area. There will be more classes, space and resources to bring to UMass to maintain expertise,” said Rebecca Spencer, a sleep expert supporting researchers in the study.

Wysocki said she hopes this research will lead to partnerships with companies and subsequent funding to develop more devices to help patients in other areas.

The first two research projects are headed by nursing faculty Rachel Walker and Karen Kalmakis.

Walker’s team will help cancer survivors monitor and self-manage persistent fatigue through the development of a wearable eye-tracking technology to provide patient feedback.

Kalmakis’ team will study physiological stress indicators such as cortisol in sweat as an indicator of stress to help patients improve their sleep hygiene.

“The biggest danger when adding stress and fatigue to an existing condition is that it amplifies health problems. It is harder to take care of yourself when you are sleep deprived,” Spencer said. “Sleep health helps us make good decisions.”

To try to quantify rest, researchers will place electrodes on patients’ heads to gather technical data on sleep stages. A non-invasive FitBit style watch will be used in an actigraphy test which monitors patterns of awakeness and rest over a period of several nights. Patients will also answer questionnaires about their rest habits.

According to Wysocki, the goal is to use this data to enable patients to take charge of their symptoms — whether that be adjusting pain medication dosage, engaging in physical activity or practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep breathing.

Studies show equal outcomes for treating insomnia from a non-medical perspective as compared to a medicinal approach. Spencer says she wants to attack fatigue by focusing on behavior change and intervention.

“If the data shows patients consistently sleep short or go to bed late, it helps us to say: Here are things you can change about your day in order to go to bed early,” said Spencer.

Sleep and stress issues can also negatively impact a patient’s physical symptoms. Wysocki, who has an extensive background in wound care, said these factors “can also thin your skin and create problems with healing.”

Email Allyson at amorin@umass.edu.

Fatal Southpoint shooting leaves community uneasy


Fatal Southpoint shooting leaves community uneasy

Amherst Police investigate the Southpoint shooting Saturday, Oct. 15. The investigation is still ongoing. (Joshua Murray/Amherst Wire)

AMHERST — Some residents who live near the Southpoint Townhouses and Apartments say their perception of the living area has shifted following the fatal shooting of 31-year-old  Jose M. Rodriguez late Friday night in that area.

According to a statement from the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, Rodriguez was slain in a shooting at the Southpoint Townhouses and Apartments at 266 East Hadley Road around midnight.

The second victim of the shooting, a 28-year-old man, is receiving treatment for multiple gunshot wounds at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, according to the statement. His identity has not been released.

No arrests have been made, though police say the incident was not random and does not pose a threat to the public, according to the statement.

Family and friends expressed grief and sadness over Rodriguez’s death Monday afternoon. They gathered around a candlelit memorial in the parking lot of the Southpoint complex, not far from where Rodriguez was killed.

“He was a good friend and a good father,” said DeVon Walker, 34. “It hits so close to home.”

Walker, who lives in Amherst, said he was a longtime friend of Rodriguez.

Michelle Kellogg, 39, stood at the edge of the apartment complex to pick up her young son Conner at the school bus stop. Conner received a letter from his elementary school offering counseling services to children emotionally impacted by the shooting. Kellogg has been a resident of the Boulder community for nine years.

“I’m a little worried right now,” Kellogg said. “I come from Baltimore so I’m used to these things happening. We are a quiet place and when things like this happen, it’s upsetting.”

Though Kellogg saw the act of violence as an isolated incident, she was still rattled by the incident.

“We’ll probably see a lot more cops around here until things calm down,” Kellogg said.

“Nobody deserves to die. Nobody deserves it,” Conner added, standing at his mother’s side.

The Boulders Apartment Homes are located several hundred feet away from Southpoint Townhouses and Apartments. Many upperclassman undergraduate and graduate students live there. (Allyson Morin/Amherst Wire)


University of Massachusetts Amherst student Cling Cheng, 21, was in her apartment when the shooting occurred, she said. The next thing she knew, she saw red lights flashing outside as emergency responders arrived.

“It is scary and sad what happened. I feel unsafe here right now,” Cheng said as she got off the bus, headed back to her Southpoint apartment.

Many UMass Amherst students live in the area of Southpoint and The Boulers, which are several hundred feet apart.

Brittany Pratt, 20, a resident of the Boulders said she will tighten security in her own apartment following the incident.

“Security isn’t bad here. I always felt safe,” Pratt said. “The door to my apartment is always open but in the future that will change.”

UMass student Shane McCormack, 19, lives in The Boulders. He said he did not hear gunshots or commotion the night of the incident.

“It’s always been a safe neighborhood,” McCormack said.

The last fatal shooting in Amherst occurred in 2004 when Bryan Johnston, of Westfield, killed UMass student David Sullivan at an off-campus house on Meadow Street.

The incident remains under investigation by Amherst Police, Massachusetts State Police (MSP) and MSP Crime Scene Services, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

Anyone with information should contact the Amherst Police Department at 413-259-3015 or text a tip to the anonymous tip line at 274637.

Email Allyson at amorin@umass.edu.

Amherst Wire: 11 October 2016

Innovation and team building the focus at fourth annual HackUMass


Allyson Morin, Contributor

AMHERST — Tech-savvy University of Massachusetts Amherst hackers from across the northeast produced projects to be proud of at HackUMass, a 36-hour hackathon that took place over the weekend.

For the fourth year, this technology-driven weekend saw robotics, software development, app building and pretentious poetry.

According to HackUMass Head Coordinator Hiram Silvey, participation has grown 30 percent from last year. It is one of the largest student-run events hosted by the university with some 700 participants.

The Integrated Learning Center transformed into a campground for the technically gifted Friday. A steady stream of snacks and energy drinks kept the creative juices flowing. Pillows and blankets littered the building.

It was not unusual to enter a classroom to find students sleeping beneath tables while their teammates forged on above them.

The grand prize went to an app called Doppelgänger, which uses facial recognition software to match photos of users who look alike. Participants may then follow their doppelgangers and chat with them.


Another team, known as Pretentious Poet, is a collaborative effort between sophomores Kyle Vedder, Itamar Levy-Or, Jared Holzman and Isabel Hagberg. It is essentially a computer program that intakes an image and outputs randomized poetry by stringing together words determined by image tags to make semi-coherent sentences.

“You can expand on an image in a way that really hasn’t been done before. It combines computer science and art,” Holzman said.

Pretentious Poet won the “nicest documentation award” from HackUMass for the quality of their project report. They also received a sponsor prize from Major League Hacking for best use of Amazon web services at Sunday’s closing ceremony in Mahar Auditorium.

The process uses a context-free grammar which ensures the poem will be grammatically standard English. After several poems are generated, a scoring function compares their value in terms of length and synonyms. Then, genetic programming uses bits of stanzas to breed many of these poems together over several evolutionary cycles to produce the final form.

“It’s essentially the process of evolution at work,” Vedder said.

To use the program, the team plugs in an image URL. The chosen photo was a view from the back of a classroom, shown below.


Two seconds later, the computer spat back a poem:

“The workshop is an abstraction of immediate musing by the pundit of the evening musing where you sleep.

A dream devours into gangs. It forms like a schoolhouse with the opportunity.

It is a classic business of riff-raff and revery.”


A submission called Pour Me a Drink was created by UMass sophomores Jonathan Rivernider, Ian Birle, Michael Consigli and Sirius Just.

It poses a solution to the age-old question of adults everywhere — What do I want to drink?

“Say you’re like, I kind of know what type of wine I like but I don’t know any names of wines. This website is for you,” Rivernider said.

Users click beer or wine and choose from a pull down list of options such as “a light and fruity white wine” or “an earthy and spicy red wine.” The program generates a randomized option that includes a price point, year and link to purchase.

The team ran into minor problems while creating the software.

“For a while it would only give us British ales and we couldn’t figure out why,” Just said.

It ended up being a problem with the documentation of the application program interface. The team confused style with category. It was a learning experience.

Across the building, computer science sophomores Joshua Hassler, Darrien Glasser and Rebecca Campelli had a vision for this hackathon.

They hoped to design an app that makes dumb cars smarter.

“Cost can be a barrier that prevents consumers from buying smart cars. With intelliDrive we are making dumb cars smart,” said Glasser.

intelliDrive relies on smartphones, a more accessible technology to the average consumer than a smart car, the group explained.

The app collects data on mileage, miles per gallon and other information that could help employees who record business write-off costs.

Mia, a sassy self-named artificial intelligence, is the voice of intelliDrive. She will hold a conversation with the user on long drives to prevent accidents caused by sleeping while driving.

“Mia, what’s up?” Campelli asked.

“Nothing. How are you?” Mia responded.

“I’m feeling tired on this long drive,” Campelli said.

“Where is home?” Mia asked.

She sometimes has strange responses, especially when interacting with her creator.

“I’d prefer not to answer that, Mia,” Campelli said with a laugh.

At the end of the weekend, the winners were decided. The Doppelgänger team took home the grand prize, several FitBit Surge watches. Finalists included Qrator , WatchDog, Doppleganger, Stasis, Code X Culture, Emoji Home and Pretentious Poet.

Email Allyson at amorin@umass.edu. 

Amherst Wire: 6 October 2016

Hacked! 700 hackers to flood UMass Friday


Allyson Morin, Contributor

AMHERST — Hackers and tech-savvy students will spend their Friday night in a University of Massachusetts Amherst classroom, and they won’t emerge until Sunday morning.

Nearly 700 students from all over the northeast will set up shop in the Integrated Learning Center on campus for 36 hours of non-stop hacking to compete for prizes at the annual HackUMass event.

HackUMass is a tech competition in which teams have 36 hours to design and develop a functioning software or device.

Friday at midnight, the project-building begins. Teams will forge ahead with limited interruption until the deadline Sunday at 7 a.m, though a midnight surprise event Saturday and catering courtesy of UMass Dining will break up the weekend-long grind.

Event organizers say they expect creativity and innovation once again at this year’s hack-a-thon.

“Last year, one team made a project called ‘Salus,’ which was a phone app that automatically called the police and ambulance if you were in a car crash,” said HackUMass Head Coordinator Hiram Silvey.

The Salus app alerts police and ambulance to abrupt changes in speed that might signify an accident and provided users with an eight-second window to correct a false alarm.

“It really stood out to me as something that could potentially save a person’s life, and it was built in only 36 hours at HackUMass,” Silvey said.

HackUMass released a 2016 promotional video detailing exciting things to look forward to this year, including Makerbot 3-D printers from the UMass Digital Media Lab.

“Tons of students of many diverse majors all come together in the same place and collaborate together and work on phenomenal amazing software and hardware projects,” said Josh Gallant in a promotional video.

“Also they just come there to have a lot of fun learning about tech,” Gallant added.

According to Silvey, participation has grown 30 percent from last year. It is one of the largest student-run events hosted by the university.

The coming weekend boasts a plethora of prizes including FitBit Surge devices for grand prize winners. Eligible submissions may win Amazon Echo Bits, a virtual reality headset, a mini wireless keyboard and Six Flag tickets.

Last year’s grand prize winner was web service Solaropia created by Srinivasan Iyengar and Stephen Lee. Solaropia provides an interface to aid homeowners with initial rooftop diagnostics and give feedback on their home’s solar potential.

Email Allyson at amorin@umass.edu.