Class of 2023: Ada Wong on Three Learning Experiences in Computer Science

Young woman standing in arcade with gothic arches wearing white dress and holding graduation cap.

Originally from Salisbury, North Carolina, Ada Wong is graduating with a degree in computer science and heading to California for a job at Apple. She took a moment to speak with sophomore Lily Neusaenger about experiential learning, applied research and the power of community for fueling her career.

Mobile Development for a Client

During my sophomore year, I took a graduate class focused on mobile development. The professor tailored the course toward experiences that you could take on in your career by simulating real-world software engineering experiences. As part of the class project, we had the choice to develop our own app idea or collaborate with a client seeking app development services.

I chose to work with a client which was the Nunn Lab at Duke University, a research group involved in studies conducted in Madagascar. One challenge they faced was accurately identifying individuals based on their nicknames. During interviews, different nicknames were mentioned, potentially referring to the same person. Additionally, they were capturing images to track relationships within the communities.

They needed an app to manage their image collection and match individuals with different nicknames but the same image, to avoid duplicates.

I collaborated with three other students in a group, and we had one semester to create a basic app, known as a minimum viable product (MVP). It was a simplified version, but it was successfully used in their research. I was also able to discuss this project during interviews for internships when asked about my experiences.

Research Project on Usable Security

In another graduate-level class, the main objective was to conduct a research project focused on enhancing our understanding of usable security. I collaborated with two other individuals in a small group, and our research revolved around studying deceptive patterns and user perceptions in streaming services. We also conducted literature reviews of relevant research papers and obtained approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

I found this class engaging and thought it was interesting to apply my learnings through research. During the initial phase of the semester, we gained extensive knowledge and familiarity with various issues within the field of usable security. The second half of the semester, we applied our knowledge to conduct a study which included surveys, interviews, and developing a codebook.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to intern at Microsoft, specifically in the security domain. This experience allowed me to witness firsthand how the concepts and principles learned in this course could be effectively applied in real-life scenarios.

Community of Women in Tech

Group of young women sitting in a circle outdoors and eating food and drink with paper plates and cups.

When I first arrived at Duke, I was looking for a tech community specifically for women since most of my family isn’t in tech. DTech became that group for me and was led by two amazing advisors, Amy Arnold and Kelly Perri. They both provided support through one-on-one meetings and organized campus events.

I joined DTech as a freshman and became a DTech Scholar in my sophomore year through a remote internship at Nintendo. Amy encouraged me to lead a circle of seven members in North Carolina and Atlanta. We had weekly virtual meetings to share our internship experiences and build a support system during the summer.

Last summer, I led a DTech circle in Seattle, enjoying in-person activities like ice cream outings and dinners. We also connected with helpful alumni mentors in Seattle. DTech hosts valuable events like resume workshops and alumni talks, even providing practice for technical and behavioral interviews. Participating in DTech has made a significant impact on my interviews and overall experience at Duke.

Choosing to engage with clubs like DTech alongside my coursework was rewarding. I highly recommend DTech to computer science students for its supportive community and real-life opportunities.

Group of young women standing on roof holding a sign, Duke University class of 2023, with arms up in the air.

The Impact of Drones and Remote Sensing in Archaeology


By Anandita Ananthakumar

The room at the Rubenstein Library was packed. Even after the space was completely full, students were pouring in, which was a novel experience for me. At this point, I knew this workshop on drones was going to be one that I couldn’t miss.

Duke has been one of the leading institutions in research involving drones, to the point that the university has released a drone policy. At the Duke Drone Workshop on November 29th, Professor Maurizio Forte started off with the basics, giving us an overview on the general use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in archaeology.

To expect archaeologists to obtain data with physical collection alone is neither practical nor extensive. However, there’s a way to counter these unrealistic expectations and rising costs. With UAVs’ remote sensing capabilities, archaeologists can study sites and landscapes in a nondestructive manner in order to focus their limited resources on specific locations. In his work, Professor Forte utilized these devices for obtaining mapping, surveying land, applying data from remote sensing, 3D modeling and landscape reconstruction.

Professor Forte then launched into his two projects with drones. The first one was “Spreading Wings S 900,” a hexacopter with a flight time of 18 minutes. Based on camera alignment and flight height, archaeologists were able to process data from photos collected by this drone. The data was also used in creating digital terrain models, which are used for both mapping and creating prediction models. Through this technique, researchers were able to recognize unknown remains dating back to the late Neolithic era. Unfortunately, due to the coup attempt in Turkey and difficulty accessing excavation sites, much of the research involving drones in this area was suspended.

The second drone project that Professor Forte mentioned was a Vulci 3000. He commended Bass Connections, as some students involved in the data analytics were from an Information, Society & Culture project team. Most of this research was carried out in Rome, where the drones found some archaeological anomalies in Pozzatella. The team also discovered an abandoned Roman Hellenistic town as well as a Roman theater that was previously unknown.

In conclusion, Professor Forte stressed the advantages of using UAVs to study archaeology. This field of work is always generating new questions. Lastly, he noted that students who are interested in analyzing data are always welcome to work in his lab.

Anandita Ananthakumar, currently a Biomedical Engineering graduate student, grew up in Dubai and recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University at Buffalo, New York. She enjoys meeting new people, loves to travel and will never say no to chocolate. She is currently working as a student assistant in the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies.

Bass Connections Team Brings Cutting-edge Technology to Live Performances

Machine Society Interface

As we go about our daily lives, who’s watching and why? Government institutions, for example, may be motivated to track individuals for a host of reasons, with far-reaching implications. An institution able to locate a lost Alzheimer’s patient is also able to follow dissidents.

Using live performance as way to explore these issues, a Bass Connections project team is investigating technological approaches to real-time tracking of individuals. Led by Duke faculty members Martin BrookeThomas F. DeFrantz and Guillermo Sapiro, the Machine Society Interfaces team is working in the SLIPPAGE: Performance | Culture | Technology Lab on state-of-the-art live multiperson tracking. The team developed a tracking algorithm with one of Professor Shapiro’s post-docs that uses one camera to track the position of a person on the stage.

Image from MATLAB

The project team split into five smaller groups to build various performance elements and motion-activated devices. Tracking performers on stage can influence the overall performance (music, lights, video, objects) and enable interactive and evolutionary performances, with the added benefit of a real-time digital archive. Students presented their work during the annual ChoreoLab.

Professor Brooke has been involved with this Bass Connections collaboration since 2013-2014. “I am amazed at how different it is every year,” he says. “We get radically different things from each year’s teams. I learn a lot from the students and use it in my engineering work.”

Machine Society Interfaces student team member

Libi Striegl began working in SLIPPAGE as an MFA student. After she graduated, she stayed involved as a technology consultant. The lab “is designed as a composition studio workspace where the class is divided into groups,” she explains, “and those groups collaboratively make different projects that lead up to a final presentation that covers all of the technologies that they’ve learned.”

That’s one of the greatest strengths of Bass Connections—the ability to make these otherwise impossible connections.

Striegl and the team contributed to a performance piece commissioned by the Detroit Institute of Arts. “We want to have a dancer on a stage in front of a green screen, and have the footage of that dancer be imported into another projection area that allows us to manipulate the footage,” she says. “My role is doing the Isadora patches and the live video streaming; Isadora is a program that allows you to do live manipulations of video.”

Libi Striegl

Participating on this project has been a rewarding experience for Striegl. “It allows me both to teach and work with undergrads in a collaborative environment as opposed to working individually, which is what my normal practice is. I think that’s one of the greatest strengths of the Bass Connections program—the ability to make these otherwise impossible connections.”

Next month, team members will lead workshops at Moogfest 2016, an annual conference that brings together artists, inventors, creators, designers, engineers and musicians. They will present an interactive performance, Live Processing and Ghost Dancing, on Thursday, May 19 at 4:00 p.m. And this summer, a visiting Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) student from India and a master’s student will continue to work on the tracking algorithm and integrate it into the repertoire for Duke’s Performance and Technology course.

Machine Society Interfaces student team members

Learn more

Creating Artists Who Understand Technology, and Engineers Who Understand Art


“Our class is full of engineers who have been able to overcome their fears of performance art, and performance or theater people or others who have managed to overcome fear of technology,” says Martin Brooke, who teaches Performance and Technology with Tommy DeFrantz and Tyler Walters.

The interdisciplinary course evolved through a series of grants that led to several Bass Connections projects.

Brooke, who is associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, had gotten to know Walters, a former lead dancer of the Joffrey Ballet who teaches in the Dance program at Duke. Teaming up for a grant from the Center for Instructional Technology, they taught an engineering class.

“We asked students to design canes, floors and chairs, and it went very well,” Brooke says.

Next, Brooke and Walters expanded their collaboration by reaching out to DeFrantz, a recently-hired professor of African and African American Studies, Dance and Theater Studies. They developed a course with support from the Provost’s Undergraduate Team-Teaching Initiative (PUTTI), which encouraged faculty from different disciplines to devise new problem-focused courses.

“The Performance and Technology class here at Duke is really trying to introduce students to the connection and collaboration between artists and engineering,” says DeFrantz. “And probably most importantly, it gives students a chance to actually engage in making things.”pt1-638“Creating artists who understand technology, and engineers who understand art, is what our class and project are all about,” says Brooke.

In 2013 Duke’s Bass Connections initiative provided a way to take the collaboration further and involve graduate students. For the past two years Brooke, DeFrantz and Walters led a project team called Live Processing and Live Art. This year’s project, Machine Society Interfaces, adds Guillermo Sapiro to the team.

“The Bass Connections team does things that spin out of the class and we take further,” Brooke explains. Each small group of students designs and builds a machine and choreographs a way for themselves or others to interact with it. The groups perform their works at the annual ChoreoLab.

Brooke has been thinking about how to evaluate the impact of these efforts. “Craig Roberts and I have exchanged visits to our labs thinking about how to measure the outcomes,” he notes. “If you use video for instruction, how do you measure if it’s effective or not? If we teach students in a class where they learn technology in a performance environment, how do we tell that it ends up being better than if they were just taught technology another way? How do we tell if the technology had an impact on the artists?”

In the meantime, Brooke continues to forge new collaborations with his Dance colleagues. “We have a grant to do a thing on John Hope Franklin…it’s really cool!”

Duke Professor Takes an Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding the History of a Musical Instrument


From its origins in Africa to its evolutions in the Caribbean and US, the banjo has a long and rich history—but one that’s “frustratingly hard to get at,” says Laurent Dubois, professor of romance studies and history at Duke.

“When you get into what we call black music or Afro-Atlantic music, it’s 600 years of currents of exchange,” Dubois says, “and for most of the history it was never written down. It’s extremely rare before the 19th century that’s there’s any written music.”

Dubois, who specializes in the history and culture of the Atlantic world and who also plays the banjo, set out to produce a book about the history of the instrument. Recognizing that formal training in music and ethnomusicology would enrich his work, he applied for a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

dubois_cmsThese prestigious fellowships assist humanities faculty who seek training in areas outside their specialties. About a dozen scholars are selected annually and can spend up to three years pursuing new areas of knowledge.

The first Duke faculty member to be selected, Dubois received the fellowship in 2010 and began taking classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke. “It allowed me to slow down and become a student again,” he says.

It wasn’t easy. At Duke “I took a music theory class and found it extremely challenging,” he laughs. “It was an undergraduate course and I was by far the slowest student, but I learned a ton.” He participated in graduate seminars at UNC with David Garcia and at Duke with Louise Meintjes and Paul Berliner. “Those were really interesting departures for me,” he says, pointing to one class that bridged the pra

ctice of music—he learned to play the mbira, an African thumb piano—with “highly theoretical questions of how we think about music across cultures.”

When he began his book project, Dubois planned to use written archives to write about discourses around music. “Being able to take these classes really reconfigured that,” he notes, “so that the music itself became much more central.”

He also spent time working with instrument makers. “A couple of the biggest insights in the book came out of that dialogue and helped me understand big historical things like why instruments were made in certain ways at certain times.”

Yet writing about music is a strange thing, he says, since music transcends the limits of language. “The reconfiguration of thinking that I went through because of the fellowship made me realize I could only do certain things in the digital form, precisely because I wanted to move beyond just using words.”

Therefore he capitalized on the fellowship’s flexibility to expand into digital projects, which he hadn’t planned. This time he sought out Duke students rather than faculty experts. In partnership with Mary Caton Lingold, a doctoral student in English, and David Garner, a doctoral student in music composition, he created a website called Banjology. The site aims to share research along with musical transcription and analysis and to serve as a resource for musicians.

Most banjo songs had never been written out, Dubois notes, and he relished the rich discussions about how to transcribe them. “That was incredibly interesting. Certainly both of them have taught me probably more than they’ve learned from me.”

banjo-in-african-diaspora30His journey also led to new collaborations with faculty. “I deepened my connections with people in the music department, and I discovered how many people at Duke are musicians or have music as part of their practice. I started collaborating with Mark Anthony Neal, who writes a lot about music, and Cecelia Conway at Appalachian State. I did an event in New Orleans that involved putting African musicians and New Orleans musicians in dialogue with scholars. That was great. It created a set of connections for me that are ongoing.”

New Directions Fellowships are intended to be long-term investments in scholars’ intellectual range and productivity. “What the fellowship encouraged me to do was just slow down,” says Dubois, “to explore areas and to understand the fields of music, music theory, ethnomusicology…and I ended up discovering this whole field called organology, the study of musical instruments. All those sorts of things will probably influence me long term, and I can point students to these resources.”

Dubois earned an interdisciplinary doctorate in history and anthropology and has been “quite interdisciplinary all along,” he says. But the fellowship more deeply anchored his sense of what it means to work across disciplines.

“The prestige and support offered by the fellowship gave me a sense of freedom and space to explore,” he notes, “and helped to embolden me in terms of my approaches and ambitions for my work.”

Dubois’s book on the Afro-Atlantic history of the banjo will be published this Spring by Harvard University Press. “I think my book took longer to write because of the fellowship, and as a result it is a lot better in the end,” he adds.

Looking ahead, he thinks his teaching and research “will be much more musical and cultural than before. I feel much more comfortable doing that kind of work. I was a musician before, but this gave me a much richer spectrum of ways of thinking about it.”

Photo 1: Dubois onstage at an event hosted by Duke University Libraries at Fullsteam Brewery about the history of the banjo; courtesy of Duke University Libraries; Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Laurent Dubois