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When Jessica Simes was an undergraduate at Occidental College, she was captivated by issues of race and privilege in American communities. But it was a speech about racism and imprisonment by civil rights activist Angela Davis that planted the seed for what would become Simes’ Harvard doctoral thesis, which focused on racial inequality and the mass incarceration of African Americans.

Now a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of sociology, Simes has received what she calls “a wonderful welcome gift”—one of the two newly endowed three-year career development professorships known as the University Provost’s Career Development Professorships, made possible by a $2.5 million gift from an anonymous donor. These professorships and two other new career development professorships established this fall will enable junior faculty who are emerging as leaders in their field to pursue important and timely research. The recipient of the second University Provost’s Career Development Professorship will be announced next fall.

The University Provost’s Career Development Professorships will support two junior faculty working in academic areas with “the greatest potential for impacting the quality and stature of the University, as determined by the provost.” The first professorship, awarded to Simes, is targeted to advancing the participation and success of women in the area of data science. And data science—specifically the mapping of communities to reflect the percentage of incarcerated people—has been the backbone of Simes’ research on race, poverty, and mass incarceration.

Two additional new career development professorships will also benefit junior faculty. The Isabel Anderson Career Development Professorship, funded by the estate of longtime Boston philanthropists Isabel and Larz Anderson, supports outstanding junior faculty at the Questrom School of Business. The Moorman-Simon Interdisciplinary Career Development Professorships, funded by a gift from BU overseer Ruth Moorman (CAS’88, SED’89,’09) and her husband, Sheldon Simon, recognize two faculty members engaged in interdisciplinary work at the University and holding an appointment in more than one BU school or college.

All three new Career Development Professorships provide a fixed sum each year for three years, with part designated to support research and scholarly expenses for the faculty member and part to be used by the school to offset the recipient’s salary.

Photo of Marcus Bellamy, a Questrom assistant professor of operations and technology management

The newly endowed Isabel Anderson Career Development Professorship has been awarded to Marcus Bellamy, a Questrom assistant professor of operations and technology management. Photo by Cydney Scott

The inaugural Isabel Anderson Career Development Professorship has been awarded to Marcus Bellamy, a Questrom assistant professor of operations and technology management, who specializes in innovation and management of global supply chains, using analytics and visualization techniques to help businesses identify and understand clusters, patterns, and trends.

“This was a very sweet surprise,” says Bellamy, whose research on supply chains draws on many fields beyond business, such as epidemiology. How, his studies ask, do you attack this complex global problem through different lenses, not conventional to the field itself? His work draws on real-world financial and supply chain data—for example, for products produced and distributed globally by a company such as Apple—which he complements with simulation models. Bellamy earned an MS in industrial engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a PhD in operations management at its Scheller College of Business. “I’m a part of this academic community where I feel like my work is championed,” he says of his time at BU. “That’s always been a blessing, so being awarded this professorship will help bring out the best in my work.”

The first Moorman-Simon Interdisciplinary Career Development Professorship goes to Keith Brown, a College of Engineering assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a CAS assistant professor of physics, whose research focuses on how the nanostructure—a level between microscopic and molecular—of materials affects the way light, heat, electrons, and molecules move through systems. (The second Moorman-Simon Professor will be announced in 2017.) Brown’s multidisciplinary research focuses on soft materials—liquids, polymers, emulsions, and gels.

“I am extremely honored and grateful for being appointed the inaugural Moorman-Simon Interdisciplinary Career Development Professor,” says Brown, who received a PhD in applied physics from Harvard and a bachelor of science in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “BU has proved to be a supportive environment for our efforts to work across disciplines and this professorship will amplify our impact and allow us to deeply embrace the interdisciplinary nature of our work.” This year, Brown received ENG’s Materials Science and Engineering Innovation Award.

“Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of our alumni and donors, these three new Career Development Professorships are supporting the success of a whole new cohort of talented junior faculty, laying the foundation for important new discoveries in interdisciplinary research, and advancing our understanding of rapidly emerging fields from business to data science,” says Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer. “We are excited for these exceptional young faculty members and the possibilities for their research and teaching in the years ahead.”

Photo of Keith Brown, an ENG assistant professor

Keith Brown, an ENG assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a CAS assistant professor of physics, has been named BU’s first Moorman-Simon Interdisciplinary Career Development Professor. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi

For Simes, whose research began with an unpaid internship at the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MDOC), her career development professorship will help her step up work to mine data from the prison system and a variety of other sources. “I can map the way the prison boom affects communities, down to blocks and neighborhoods and scholastic component, and estimate rates of incarceration and how poverty and violence affect those rates,” she says. Nationally, one in four black men who didn’t finish high school will face incarceration at some point, and in Massachusetts, according to the MDOC, nearly a third of the male prison population is black, while African Americans comprise only 8 percent of the state’s population. “I’m fundamentally interested in the question of justice and to what extent does punishment achieve that goal,” especially among marginalized communities, Simes says.

The big data aspect of her work is crucial because it enables her to look at community incarceration rates across the state, she says. Through data mapping—the overlap of MDOC data with census and other demographic data—“you see that mass incarceration affects not just large urban centers but smaller cities like Worcester or Brockton” and geographical data mapping, or geocoding, “tells an important story of the prison boom across time,” says Simes, who looks at predictors like race and poverty, information that could shape policy decisions such as where to place reentry services, which are now mostly restricted to large urban centers. She says her work can ultimately inform policy on issues from the opioid addiction crisis to the use of solitary confinement.

Simes also hopes to establish collaborative projects with faculty at other schools, particularly the School of Public Health. “I’d like to study the nexus of social policy and criminal justice policy,” she says. “What are the effects from a public health perspective? What about policing?”

But for now, just a month on the job, she is enjoying examining the possibilities. An assistant professorship at BU, and now the career professorship award—it’s overwhelming, she says. And wonderful.