Heather Pon-Barry

Associate Professor of Computer Science
Mount Holyoke College

ponbarry at mtholyoke.edu
Office: Clapp 226 

Photo: Heather Pon-Barry Photo: Heather Pon-Barry


My research focuses on human-robot interaction and spoken dialogue, drawing on elements of artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, signal processing and cognitive science. I develop technologies that augment traditional speech and vision perception -- analyzing the intonation patterns of speech and visual information to allow social robots to better converse with humans. Much of my work focuses on educational applications of robots and dialogue systems.

I also work on activities to broaden participation in computer science, including the development of MaGE (Megas and Gigas Educate). The MaGE curriculum and peer mentorship program focuses on inclusion as a key tool for creating a welcoming environment that fosters a community of learning, especially for students who may not see themselves reflected in the existing computer science community.

My work has been supported by a National Science Foundation CAREER award (see MHC News story), a NSF National Robotics Initiative award, and a Google CS Capacity Award. I earned a doctorate in computer science from Harvard University. I first began studying spoken dialogue as an undergraduate and master's student in Symbolic Systems (cognitive science) at Stanford University. At Mount Holyoke, I teach courses in natural language processing, introductory computer science, data structures, and a seminar on talking robots.

Research Lab

I am the director of the Interactive Computing Research Lab at Mount Holyoke College where we are studying spoken language processing in the context of human-robot interaction. While speech is a natural way to communicate with robots, most robots are not able to recognize or respond to the subtleties of spoken language. In the Interactive Computing Research Lab, we address basic scientific questions about how humans use spoken natural language when communicating with robots, computers, and other humans. We study human-human conversation to understand phenomena such as acoustic-prosodic entrainment. We develop algorithms to automatically find patterns in speech data, which enable affect recognition. And we explore how these methods can inform the design of intelligent, adaptive human-robot interactions.

Watch the videos below to see some of the recent projects with Nico, a humanoid robot.

Take a look at my publications page to see past projects I have worked on in spoken dialogue systems, intelligent tutoring systems, recognition of uncertainty in speech, and analysis of acoustic-prosodic entrainment.

For Students

Chart of MHC Computer Science Courses

Instructions for requesting letters of recommendation

For Visitors

Map of Clapp Laboratory/where to park


Other Activities and Affiliations

I'm an Adjunct Associate Professor in the College of Information and Computer Sciences at UMass Amherst.

Contact Information

Heather Pon-Barry
Computer Science Department
Mount Holyoke College
50 College Street
South Hadley, MA 01075

(413) 538-2241