Owen Davis-Bower ’20 Mixes Computer Science and Bird Sounds at the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program in Ithaca, NY

My name is Owen Davis-Bower, and I am a rising junior Computer Science major at Whitman College. This summer I am interning at the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program, in Ithaca, New York. Our building sits in the middle of a beautiful protected forest right next to a lake which is constantly bustling with wildlife. This internship was made possible through the funding of the Whitman Internship Grant, and has so far given me a wonderful learning experience by allowing me to dive right into a real world software development environment. I’ve had the opportunity to work very closely with a full time software developer at Cornell who has given me great mentorship and made it very easy to be able to make an immediate impact on the project.

My primary focus for the summer is working on a sound visualization application which aims to educate the public about bird sounds in a fun and highly interactive way, and to promote biological conservation. The application, Raven Exhibit, is already installed in science museums, zoos, and conservation centers all over the world.

The first couple of weeks of my internship consisted of familiarizing myself with the software project, and making minor improvements and bug fixes in the existing application. The course I took at Whitman on software development this last spring helped me quickly adjust to working on a collaborative software project.

Once I got to a point where I was well familiarized with how the application is put together, my colleagues and I began planning a new feature which everybody is very excited about, which we call “Animal Karaoke”. Animal Karaoke is essentially an interactive feature which challenges the player to listen to an animal sound, and then attempt to mimic it. The player is then given a score based on how closely they matched the sound, and is rewarded with a fun fact about the animal if they score high enough. The purpose of animal karaoke is to engage more people in the exhibit, and to provide more education about how animals make the fascinating sounds that they do.

While working on Animal Karaoke, I have pretty much been given creative freedom to design the feature in the best way I see fit. My past experience with designing mobile applications and games has given me a very helpful perspective for designing the layout of the window. I was also tasked with designing the application for creating karaoke sounds, which can be used in the main application. At this point, the prototype user interface has been designed and the next step will be learning how to compare sounds which should be a difficult but interesting task. In the mean time, I am also preparing to present Animal Karaoke at a board meeting in the upcoming weeks to showcase our prototype and future plans for the application.

The rest of my summer will consist of completing the Animal Karaoke module preparing it for the public through facilitating testing and fine tuning. There’s a lot of work to do yet, but it’s going fast and I am learning so much about working on large cooperative projects, and becoming even more familiar with object oriented programming.

Outside of the internship, I have been greatly enjoying the city of Ithaca and all that it has to offer. I have been hiking a bunch to explore all of the stunning waterfalls and gorges, and am currently playing on two different soccer teams to keep in shape for the Whitman soccer season this fall. Through soccer, I have made some great friends and connections with people from both the Ithaca and Cornell communities. This has already been a summer to remember, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity and all of the learning and experience it has given me.

Experiences like Owen’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.

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