Pirouettes and Programming

Natalie Monger, a Presidential Scholar earned her combined computer science-business administration degree with a minor in dance performance, sets the stage for technology and art.

Natalie Monger is standing outside in a courtyard at USC's campus.
Natalie Monger, a Presidential Scholar Monger earning a combined computer science-based administration degree with a minor in dance performance, sets the stage for technology and art. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Monger).

What do C++, dance, circular saws, and bananas all have in common?

USC Viterbi alumna Natalie Monger, that’s what.

Monger, earned a combined computer science-business administration degree with a minor in the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. A dancer and programmer since high school, combining disparate interests has been a way of life for Monger long before she enrolled at USC; her unique perspective is leading her into fields that have yet to be discovered.

“Right now I’m studying the historical aspects of dance and how technology can record dance,” she said. “Eventually, I’d like to start my own company combining art, dance, and high-tech advancements, maybe VR. I just don’t think anything like that is out there right now.”

Monger’s creative streak shined through early. In high school, on top of her dance activities, she said she created the world’s first “bananator.” Using electrical current and some cleverly coded lines in Java, Monger succeeded in playing simple tunes through… you guessed it, bananas.

“Each day after school, I would go to dance for a few hours and then come home and stay up super late working on personal projects like these,” she said. “I thought it was so cool how lines of code could translate into something that users could enjoy.”

During her time at USC, Monger consistently sought ways to explore outside the box thinking, both in and outside the computer lab and dance studio.

In 2016, as a research assistant in USC’s Vision and Graphics Lab, Monger gained experience working with advanced computer graphics.

“We’d basically take 10 GoPro [cameras] and arrange them in a circle, and see if we could create the same 3-D image you would get with ordinary computer graphics,” she said. “It was a really fun project.”

On the dance side, Monger has explored new territory as well. Under the guidance of USC Kaufman Professor Alison D’Amato, Monger researched how dance is recorded and passed on, formally known as dance notation and dance syntax.

She sees a close relationship between dance and engineering and thinks the convergence of the two could provide a springboard for revolutionary technologies.

“There’s certainly room for innovation in the intersection of dance and computer graphics,” Monger said. “Specifically, I see myself creating motion capture technology to choreograph and design dances before meeting with dancers in person. With USC’s resources and professors at my disposal, I can see this vision becoming a reality in the next few years.”

Monger spent the 2016 summer working for Northrop Grumman developing a software-formatting tool. Even then, she still found an opportunity to stretch outside of her job description.

“Coding my project would take me most of the workday, but I would stay late and spend time playing around with the tools in the machine shop,” she said. “I built an FM radio, learned how to 3-D print and spent time with these crazy saws which were kind of scary but really fun.”

Monger’s mentors in the USC Viterbi Department of Computer Science and the USC Kaufman School of Dance looked on eagerly. Her dance advisor, D’Amato, was excited about seeing where Monger’s vision will take her.

“There are a lot of people here at Kaufman who are exploring and making connections between dance and state of the art media,” she said. “I see Natalie as somebody who could pioneer in this intersection. It could be her research ideas that could show us how the field of dance will look in the future.”

While some might see the fields of computer science, business, and dance as completely unrelated, even mutually exclusive, Monger can’t imagine her education any other way. She served as a Freshman Academy Coach and Viterbi Student Ambassador, Monger was in a position to showcase to incoming students the power of interdisciplinary education.

“I believe if all computer scientists and engineers explored diversity through an education in the fine arts,” she said, “it would greatly transform the possibilities of what engineers could do.”

By Ian Geckeler

>Read the original story on the USC Viterbi School website.

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