Robotics Expert Earns Top Faculty Honor

Roboticist Holly Yanco
Computer Science Prof. Holly Yanco, a robotics expert, has been named Distinguished University Professor.

By Edwin Aguirre

Prof. Holly Yanco of the Computer Science Department has been named Distinguished University Professor, the highest distinction bestowed on faculty members.

Yanco, a leading researcher and authority on robotics, will serve from September 2015 through August 2018. The appointment recognizes exemplary contributions to teaching, research and service. 

"Over the past 15 years, Prof. Yanco has consistently demonstrated outstanding teaching, research, scholarship and service to the university. She is highly deserving of the University Professor honor," says Provost Donald Pierson.

"Holly Yanco is a passionate teacher who cares deeply about student learning. She co-developed the robotics minor at UMass Lowell in 2010 and has worked to build a community among the undergraduates from different departments while providing information about research and job opportunities,” says Mark Hines, acting dean of the College of Sciences.

Yanco has successfully obtained more than $7 million in external grants from agencies like the National Science Foundation, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Army Research Office. She has also published widely, authoring more than 120 research papers. 

As founder and director of the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center, Yanco is a nationally recognized leader in her field. She was elected as co-chair of the Steering Committee for the ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot interaction and Journal of Human-Robot Interaction in 2013 for a three-year term. She has also taken an active role in the economic development of the region and state, working with leaders at the Devens Inter-Operability Playground (IOP) and Joint Base Cape Cod to create a robot testing ecosystem to support Massachusetts companies and researchers. 

In 2013, Yanco received a Women to Watch award from Mass High Tech and earned first place in the RASC-AL Robo-Ops Competition at NASA Johnson Space Center. She is a 2011 recipient of the Faculty Award for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning in the Sciences from UMass Lowell.

“It is an honor to have been selected as this year's University Professor, given how many excellent professors we have here at UMass Lowell,” Yanco says.

Yanco has numerous research projects underway -- many in collaboration with professors from other departments -- focused on building the next generation of robots. For example, she is partnering with physical therapy faculty to study ways people move in hopes of improving the development of humanoid robots and robot exoskeletons. 

“The university provides an excellent environment for interdisciplinary collaboration, both in our research and in our teaching,” she says.

Yanco joined UMass Lowell’s faculty in 2001. She holds bachelor’s degrees in computer science and philosophy from Wellesley College and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Previous University Professors include Susan Braunhut (biology), 2008–11; Ken Geiser (work environment), 2009–12; Robert Giles (physics), 2010–13; Regina Panasuk (education), 2011–14; Stephen McCarthy (plastics engineering), 2012–15; Laura Punnett (work environment), 2013–16; and Pradeep Kurup (civil and environmental engineering), 2014-17.

Yanco will deliver the annual University Professor lecture in the spring.