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Anagha Todalbagi

Info Sci MPS '17

No matter what career path she inevitably chose, Anagha Todalbagi knew she wanted to be a catalyst for a better world. Growing up in Bangalore, India, her love of math, computer science and creative writing coalesced into a will to serve the greater good or, in her own words, to be a “change agent”. In time, she reasoned technology would be the tool to affect the most change.

“I was introduced to programming in school and felt an adrenaline rush every time my code compiled successfully,” she said. “As I grew up, I realized technology can make a huge impact and act as a force multiplier, bringing to life creative and positive disruptive changes. Programming seemed to be at the right intersection of creativity and working for the common good.”

She went on to earn a bachelor’s in computer science and engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University in Bangalore. This fall, Anagha arrived at Cornell University to begin her studies in the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program in Information Science. She's making an impact already, earning a trip to the Grace Hopper Conference in October, reaching the finals in the "Reality, Virtually, Hackathon" at MIT, and taking second place in the FinTech hackathon at Cornell Tech. 

How are you liking Cornell thus far?

I’m loving it here! Coming from a region with a tropical climate, I like that I can experience new weather conditions here. I was excited to watch snow fall for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

Cornell has been helping me realize my full potential. It has a very supportive community with a great ecosystem that has encouraged me to grow intellectually and build more rounded skills. Within the Computing and Information Science department, I’m enjoying a combination of coursework, research and projects, and I plan on graduating in Spring 2017. I’m grateful for having brilliant professors and research scientists, who are ninjas in their chosen fields, as my mentors and for the opportunity to interact with outstanding peers.

What made you want to pursue a master’s degree in Information Science?

As my interest in computer science grew during my undergrad studies, I was pondering how I could use tech as an enabler for the underprivileged in our society. Thoughts in this direction led me to focus on how to use technology to augment human capabilities. This manifested into an interest in wearable technology, assistive technology and the internet of things, along with a wish to build a technology solution to provide a level playing field for people with disabilities.

With a background in computer science, the idea of learning how to tame technology and leverage it for the good of society pushed me to study information science since I view the field as technology intertwined with human computer interaction design.

At Cornell this semester, my team in INFO 4940 (Human-Computer Interaction Design) and I are working on a study of individuals with mobility disabilities. This fits in well with my interests of utilizing technology as a bridge to harness full human potential.

What has your experience been like in the program thus far?

Exciting! There is something new to look forward to every week: meeting people who are experts in their field; talking to fellow students who are studying different topics; attending hackathons; climbing the McGraw tower; exploring new places in Ithaca, and building at the maker lab – Mann-u-facture in Mann library – while managing assignment deadlines. All of it keeps me on my toes.

Before I came here, I was not sure about how I’d be able to manage everything since this was going to be my first time away from home. However, this program has helped me expand my horizons, discover myself and break free from my perceived limitations, which I've learned are only in the mind.

What's your favorite class and why?

I have two favorite classes this semester: Artificial Intelligence with Professor Bart Selman (CS 4700) and Human Computer Interaction Design with Professor Gilly Leshed (INFO 4940). I’m looking forward to Advanced Artificial Intelligence with Professor Selman (CS 6700) and Human Computer Interaction Studio with Professor François Guimbretière (INFO 4420) next semester.

I also consider myself lucky for having gotten the chance to see Kismet, the sociable humanoid robot in the Artificial Intelligence section at the MIT museum. I got to experience it while I was there to participate at the hackathon. Watching Kismet in action helped reinforce my understanding of concepts I’ve been studying in my Artificial Intelligence and Human Computer Interaction Design courses. I’m equally enjoying independent research with professors Guimbretière and Nicola Dell.

Not only did you recently attend the Grace Hopper Conference, but you were a finalist at the MIT Hackathon. Tell us about your hackathon project?

The “Reality, Virtually, Hackathon" at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., had 350 participants coming together from October 7 to 10 to build 75 open-source projects in the immersive technology space, settting the record for the largest AR/VR hackathon. My team qualified for the finals by building a virtual reality playground for pediatric patients. We chose this project since there has been ongoing research in the field of VR in the development of flexible environments that target specific acute and chronic pain conditions, all in an effort to promote long-term rehabilitative pain management. We implemented Project Play Box with an Oculus rift VR headset. It was a high-octane gathering where I learned a lot from the AR/VR experts who mentored us at the event.

I am grateful to Cornell for supporting me with a travel grant to attend the Grace Hopper conference in Houston, Texas, my first international conference in computing. Meeting technology visionaries, including my role model, was really inspiring. Being a committee member for the IoT and wearable tech track as well as a session chair for the panel discussion on "The Digital Future" was a great learning experience.

Also, at the recently held Fintech hackathon at Cornell Tech in November, my team won second place for building a solution to automate detection of money laundering transactions. We developed this project using machine learning and sentimental analysis concepts. All of these moments have bolstered my commitment to this field.

What are your career ambitions?

I am a strong believer in the power of pervasive technology. Hence, I wish to concentrate all my efforts and energy toward harnessing tech for common good. In this endeavor, I would like to work on systems that enable people with any disability to perform a given task as effortlessly as a person without that particular handicap. I’m on a mission to do my part to bridge this inequality with the aid of technology.