Each year in the weeks leading up to graduation, D-E is treated to a series of presentations given by students who elected to do an optional Senior Focus project. Open to all, the presentations are the culmination of each full-year, intensive project and are evaluated by a panel of professionals active in the relevant field (some of whom may be D-E alumni or parents of students), along with D-E faculty, staff, and peers.
Typically, the range of Senior Focus topics is, in the words of faculty advisor Peter Bograd, “exceptional and impressive.” This year’s batch of senior participants developed preliminary hypotheses and conducted fieldwork and hands-on research around such compelling questions as:
- “Can I create a mobile app that uses bitcoin technology as a form of payment?”
- “How would I create and curate a virtual exhibit connecting design to religion and culture, using pre-Christian art, primarily ship design?”
- “How effective are our current methods of diagnosing HIV?”
- “What is the most effective way of encrypting a Linux machine?”
Lucy Plowe ’16 was guided by the intriguing question of “How can one create a positive female video game character for an immersive game?” She explains, “My project was on the representation of female characters in video games and the work of concept artists to create more complex and interesting character designs. I was inspired to do this topic because I love video games. As a feminist, it’s frustrating for me when many games lack in positive female representation.”
Among other tasks, Lucy analyzed games that she enjoyed playing and games that she identified as “sexist.” She also studied the history of gaming, including the history of female characters in both games and in other media. As her research progressed, Lucy explored the process of professional concept artists in their work and applied her considerable artistic talents to create her own character designs. Ultimately, she created seven original characters, each set in a unique universe with her own identity, back-story, gear, and outfits.
Junlin Wang ’16 chose the hefty, high-finance topic of comparing statistical arbitrage and machine-learning algorithms in quantitative stock trading. He says, “I did find that such a topic needs to be narrowed to achieve a meaningful result. So I found a particular machine learning strategy and used it as my second semester topic. My inspiration was my math and computer science classes, and I have always wanted to try to do this level of research.” One of his key findings was that “a q-learning strategy has the potential to work in a real-world equity market.”
Erika Ogino ’16 examined the effect of physical activity on Alzheimer’s disease incidence in diverse populations. In doing so, she didn’t get the results expected, but she did have the experience of a lifetime.
Erika says she chose to do a Senior Focus project for reasons both personal and educational: “Both of my grandfathers are affected by Alzheimer’s. I wanted to challenge myself for senior year and take an unconventional course. I also knew Focus would be able to provide me with a lot of opportunities.”
These included learning from supportive mentors and researchers at the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP). She says, “They really challenged me, and as a result, despite no computer science or statistics background, I was able to perform my own data analysis using SPSS [software]. From the data, I was able to show how, according to the results of my analysis, physical activity was related to higher socioeconomic status, lower cardiovascular disease, and race. From the data, I was able to show how, according to the results of my analysis, physical activity was related to higher socioeconomic status, lower cardiovascular disease, and race.”
At the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain, she experienced what research would be like as a graduate student. She says, “I was given tasks from my mentor, the principal investigator, to perform. From the data, I was able to show how, according to the results of my analysis, physical activity was related to higher socioeconomic status, lower cardiovascular disease, and race.”
Her key finding: “Although socioeconomic status, cardiovascular disease, and race are related to Alzheimer’s disease incidence, I found out that physical activity actually did not decrease the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. And while this wasn’t the result that I expected, I learned that getting unexpected results is actually what’s expected in research. Moreover, my mentors asked me to then present my findings at Taub institute to other researchers and interns.”