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Robotics Researcher Earns Highest Honor from UMass Lowell

Distinguished University Professor Award Lauds Exemplary Teaching, Service

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Newly appointed Distinguished University Professor Holly Yanco is a renowned robotics expert and the director of the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center at UMass Lowell.


Contacts:  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or

LOWELL, Mass. – Renowned robotics expert Holly Yanco has been named Distinguished University Professor, the highest distinction bestowed on a University of Massachusetts Lowell faculty member.

Yanco, a computer science professor, established UMass Lowell’s Robotics Lab and has secured more than $7 million in research grants from organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, Google and the Army Research Office, among others. As the founder and director of the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center at UMass Lowell, she leads one of the country’s most advanced robotics testing facilities. The center evaluates the strength, durability, design and functionality of robots being developed by researchers and companies.

Yanco has taught at the university for 14 years. UMass Lowell previously recognized her with its Faculty Award for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning in the Sciences.

“The Distinguished University Professor honor recognizes faculty for their exceptional teaching, research and service to UMass Lowell,” said Donald Pierson, UMass Lowell’s provost, the university’s chief academic officer. “Throughout her time at the university, Prof. Yanco has demonstrated again and again that she is most deserving of this appointment.”  

Yanco teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in subjects including computer programming and robotics. The robotics minor at UMass Lowell was developed with Yanco’s help and she established the Artbotics Program, combining art and robotics in a curriculum for high school and college students. Under her direction, a team of UMass Lowell students won a national NASA contest for their work to build and operate a Mars rover-style robot.

Beyond UMass Lowell, Yanco serves as steering committee co-chairwoman of a prestigious international conference and journal on human-robot interaction presented by the Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She is helping to grow the estimated $1.9 billion robotics industry in Massachusetts as well as assisting researchers in other states. She is a past recipient of a Women to Watch Award from Mass High Tech.

“It’s an honor to have been selected as this year’s Distinguished University Professor, given how many excellent faculty members we have at UMass Lowell,” Yanco said. “All of the students who are in my lab or who have worked there in the past are the reason that I am being recognized. Their ideas, hard work and collaborative spirit make the Robotics Lab and NERVE Center places where I look forward to working every day.”

Yanco thanked colleagues and mentors Thomas Costello, UMass Lowell professor emeritus of computer science; Prof. Jie Wang, chairman of the university’s Computer Science Department; and UMass Lowell Vice Provost for Research Julie Chen for their support of her work.

A campus reception to honor Yanco will be held later in the fall semester. As part of her appointment, she will deliver the annual Distinguished University Professor lecture on a topic related to her research during the spring 2016 semester.
The Distinguished University Professor, a three-year designation, is awarded annually by UMass Lowell. Yanco’s term runs through August 2018. Other honorees include Civil and Environmental Engineering Prof. Pradeep Kurup, whose appointment runs through 2017, and Prof. Laura Punnett of the Department of Work Environment, whose appointment concludes in 2016. Past recipients include Plastics Engineering Prof. Stephen McCarthy, Mathematics Education Prof. Regina Panasuk, Physics Prof. Robert Giles, Work Environment Prof. Ken Geiser and Biology Prof. Susan Braunhut.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 17,500 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.