Recipient uses fellowship to give back

Princeton NJ -- Princeton senior Amy Anderson will spend next year giving back to an institution that has provided her with some critical help for nearly a decade.


Dale Fellowship winner Amy Anderson, an architecture major, hopes to take the problem-solving ethic she has learned from a designer's perspective and apply it to technology that helps people overcome stuttering.

Anderson is the winner of this year's Martin Dale '53 Fellowship, a $25,000 award that enables an outstanding senior to devote the year following graduation to an independent project. She plans to work with the staff at the Hollins Communications Research Institute of Roanoke, Va., helping them refine and expand a computer package called Fluency Net that aids in therapy for stuttering.

Anderson, a native of Youngstown, Ohio, has been connected with the institute since she was a student there in her early teens. Clinicians taught her to correctly and consistently say her own name "in less than 10 seconds," she says, and have helped her to the point today where she shows no trace of a stutter.

"I was a stutterer I suppose I still am," Anderson says. "You deal with it by continual practice. Hollins helps people gain a certain control of their speech mechanisms. The initial program lasts two and a half weeks, and I continue to go back every July for kind of a weekend practice seminar."

Anderson says one of the challenges faced by those in speech therapy is taking what they learn in clinical settings and making it work in everyday situations.

"Conversation ... is a world of half-swallowed tomato soup and unexpectedly blaring Britney Spears: distractions that make the conversion of practiced speech movements into real-time conversation a difficult proposition," she writes in her project statement.

In an effort to make that transfer more seamless, Hollins researchers recently have developed Fluency Net, a combination of hardware and software that allows clients to remotely practice and monitor speech patterns with the technology previously only available to them during the initial program. An ear-mounted microphone linked to a box converts sound into a visual display of its intensities. When combined with software, the device provides kinesthetic feedback (how correct speech "feels") along with visual feedback.

"The additional feedback not only helps the user create more accurate speech patterns, but also adds structure to practice sessions and begins to create mental associations of fluent speech with lived-in locations," Anderson writes.

She plans to work with the institute staff to expand the system with technology interfaces and the remote accessibility capabilities of the Internet.

"I'm hoping that one version of the final product will involve devices that overlap already existing behavior patterns perhaps a visual display device that occupies a work environment, giving peripheral signals about the quality of speech and the nature of mistakes," she says. "Things like hand-held computers and widespread electrical and Internet outlets provide an existing infrastructure that we can really take advantage of in this project."

Plotting future path

Anderson, who is majoring in architecture at Princeton, intends to take the problem-solving ethic she has learned from a designer's perspective and apply it to Fluency Net. She hopes to come up with "a personal, easily digestible interface for existing hardware" and to help plot a path for the future of the system.

"In the architecture school we don't always see our work as just designing buildings," she says. "It's more about the way a person interacts with the world."

The fellowship, which will begin in September, is divided into three parts: three months of reading and research; six months of conceptual development; and three months of interface design and production.

"I am firmly committed to the view that scholarly research at the very top level can be of practical value in society," said Professor of Architecture Beatriz Colomina in recommending Anderson for the fellowship. "Nowhere is this exemplified more than in Amy's proposal to develop an interface for a group of people in need. Her own experiences with this group have put her in a unique position to make a contribution."

After finishing the Dale Fellowship in 2002, Anderson plans to attend graduate school, perhaps studying human/computer interaction at Stanford University or pursuing architecture or digital media studies at Columbia University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Anderson's broad academic interests carry over into her extracurricular activities. She has been active designing theatrical sets on campus for the Triangle Club, Princeton University Players and Theatre Intime. She is on the planning committee for Prospect 2001, organizing a design competition for the University's Prospect Street eating clubs. She founded Hollins in New York, a practice group for speech therapy alumni. She has served as summer coordinator for Princeton-in-Washington, a program that offers seminars and social activities for 300 Princeton students working in the capital. And she has been the undergraduate representative to the School of Architecture.


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