Robots Bring Volleyball Alum Jen King (CS '04) Back Home
Jennifer King believes that robots will play a major role in the 21st century, but she doesn’t see them competing on the volleyball court anytime soon. A four-year member of the Carnegie Mellon University women’s volleyball program, King recently returned to the university to pursue her PhD in robotics.
“The hardest thing to make happen with robots, or obstacle to overcome, is speed and being able to perceive where the ball is,” King said. “As humans, we perceive and react. Robots aren’t quite as fast yet. Having robots play in a real game is something for the future.”
After graduating from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in computer science in 2004, King moved to the Baltimore area and worked as a software engineer for a government contractor. In 2007, she moved to Philadelphia and spent two years pursuing her master’s degree in robotics from the University of Pennsylvania. Following completion of her degree, King remained in the Philadelphia area and worked for the research division of Lockheed Martin for three years.
As she became more experienced within the field, King realized that she had two potential career paths to follow – she could progress in personnel management or become more adept in technical leadership. She opted for the latter and decided she should go back to school for her doctorate.
“I knew I wanted to get a doctorate and I think the program at Carnegie Mellon beats any other program out there,” King said. “To advance in technical leadership, I thought I needed a deeper knowledge from the higher education level.”
Currently, King works in the personal robotics lab at Carnegie Mellon and is progressing toward her goal of utilizing technology to support and enhance home life for the aging population.
“We’re trying to extend independent living for the elderly. Maybe my grandmother needs a little help around the house but may not need a full-time caregiver. Technology may be able to allow her to live on her own later into life,” King said. “It’s been one of my favorite things to work on.”
Returning to Carnegie Mellon has been a homecoming of sorts for the Cincinnati native. While pursuing a doctorate in robotics is different than the undergraduate experience, King has enjoyed being back on campus and in Pittsburgh.
“There’s a comfort. It does kind of feel like I came home. When I was an undergrad, CMU was my first home-away-from-home. It was the place where I established independence,” King said.
A defensive specialist and libero during her four-year volleyball career, King relished her time as a student-athlete at Carnegie Mellon. She particularly enjoyed the opportunity to form lifelong bonds with students outside of the computer science department.
“Some of my best friends were on the volleyball team and they were all different from me. They came from different places and different backgrounds,” King said. “We did a lot of traveling and got to know each other closely. I loved getting to go to Boston, Atlanta, New York and other cities. It was a really great experience.”
King believes that her experience with the Carnegie Mellon volleyball program helped prepare her well for her work as both a professional and graduate student.
“I learned the ability to be part of a team, to have a roll and play it well. I think that transfers into life,” King said.
King, who returned to the volleyball court as part of an intramural team this past fall, has made a point to support the program that she holds so dear.
“I really value my time with the volleyball team. It impacted my life in so many ways and taught me great life lessons,” King said. “It had a profound impact on my life. It’s nice to be able to give back and help make that a reality for others in the future."