Leya Breanna Baltaxe

Tell us about your research.

The Computational Media department is really great because it’s so interdisciplinary. I’ve been researching human and computer interaction, specifically in regard to audio. I got into human and computer interaction as an undergrad and I’m also a musician. I play trombone, so sound has always been really important to me. Using sound and technology in ways that are good for people is something that I’m striving to do.

I was just working on a project in which we were creating devices for music therapists to work with diverse populations. Music therapists generally use traditional musical instruments which aren’t necessarily fitted to everyone’s needs. Creating technology that people could use in many different situations was a challenging task but it was really fun. Now, I’m starting a project that has to do with creating better soundscapes in medical environments. Because of all the monotonous beeps and boops of medical alarm systems, nurses get alarm fatigue and stop responding to alarms, which is not great. So, if we can integrate different acoustical properties into our alarm systems, that would help with alarm fatigue in nurses and also would maybe help to make soundscapes less harmful to the human body in general. We think of hospitals as places of healing where you should go to get rest and get better, but they can be really stressful to the human body and soundscapes are a big part of that. The sounds could also be more informative. For example, instead of a heart rate monitor only making beep boop noises, it could make a sound like an actual heart beat.

What attracted you to this field?

During my time in high school and as an undergraduate, both of my parents had cancer within a very short time period so I spent a lot of time in hospitals caring for them and really starting to understand where technology is lacking. So just making technology more accessible to people who are low income, for example, and can’t necessarily afford to go to the doctor all the time and to individuals who live in rural communities and can’t access hospitals every day without having someone to drive them is something that’s important to me. Music and audio are always on my mind, being a musician, so being able to help improve sound environments is something that’s special to me.

What do you like about BSOE?

I like that it’s really interdisciplinary. My department, especially, likes to combine social sciences and humanities. Right now I’m taking a class in psychology as well as a class in engineering and that’s been really important for me in my research.

Do you have any advice for incoming students?

I have two pieces of advice. One is that there’s a lot of opportunity to do research here, particularly as an undergrad and because we’re one of the smaller engineering departments of all the UC’s, there’s a lot of opportunities to do impactful research as an undergrad. You just have to seek it out. If there’s a professor you like, go talk to them and see what they’re doing and how you can get involved. Another piece of advice is to have something outside engineering that makes you happy because engineering is really hard and a lot of times I get down on myself thinking I’m not a great engineer. But when you step back and take time for yourself, you can combat those feelings.

What do you like about engineering?

The most exciting thing to me about engineering is that anything is possible. You gain the tools you need to create anything. If you see something wrong with the world around you, you can enact change and make it different. Being an engineer doesn’t just mean creating hard drives on computers. You can do anything you want to do. 

What would you say to students who aren’t sure whether they want to study engineering or not?

I think there’s a place in engineering for everyone. It may not be these categories of mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, etc. because you can take things from different areas. If you’re really good at arts, if you’re really good at literature, you can combine all of these things into engineering. I think people get too caught up in thinking it’s all about physics and science because there’s a lot of other factors that go into making good technology.

Department: 
Computational Media
Degree Program: 
Ph.D., Computational Media
Undergraduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Graduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Advisor: 
Mircea Teodorescu, Sri Kurniawan