Human-Computer Interactions at Center of One Johns Hopkins APL Internship Experience

Tue, 08/29/2023 - 13:11
Erin Copland

Duran Keefe, a 2023 summer intern at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, knows that people are a key part of any information system.

“I’m fascinated by human-computer interaction, or human-centric computing — how people interact with machines,” said Keefe, an intern in the Laboratory’s Research and Exploratory Development Department (REDD). “I’m interested in processes and the connections between things, especially humans and machines.”

During their time at APL, Keefe (who uses the pronouns they/them) worked on various assignments, including the Space-Based Machine Automated Recognition Technique (SMART) project, an Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) proposal that includes work on automating searches of satellite imaging.

Keefe has also been a part of an analytic project with the Lab’s National Security Analysis Department (NSAD) relating to responsible artificial intelligence (AI), working with Krystin Krause, who manages the project, and analyst Julie Obenauer-Motley.

In the fall, Keefe will enter their sophomore year at the University of Maryland, College Park, where they are pursuing a degree in computer science.

“Once I graduate, I want to leverage my degree and the experience I’ve gotten here to get a job doing exciting and critical work,” Keefe said, who said they appreciated the opportunity to do research and analytical work at APL. “I like working on projects where I’m able to go between analysts, software engineers and developers, trying to bridge that gap or help with intergroup communication if we’re looking at something like knowledge management or how we share information, or the retention of useful resources and projects.”

Keefe’s interest in coding and computer science was spurred on in high school, when a friend invited them to join Howard (Maryland) High School’s Science Olympiad Club, a group that participates in various STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-based competitions.

Keefe, who first heard about APL through their chemistry teacher in high school, started out at the Laboratory as an intern with APL’s Student Program to Inspire, Relate and Enrich (ASPIRE), working with the computing programs MATLAB and SOLIDWORKS on projects involving maritime robotics and ocean systems and engineering.

“It’s been such a wonderful opportunity and a privilege to get to work on projects here and to be trusted to contribute and help do essential tasks,” Keefe said. “I’ve felt very valued here, and I feel like I’ve been able to grow a lot and be very productive. I’ve just thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“My mentors have been able to give me highly valuable guidance and a space to really grow, learn and explore my interests and contribute while doing that,” Keefe added. “And that has been such a fantastic experience. I’m able to contribute in ways that are valuable and appreciated by people, and that’s communicated. I’m able to be a part of a team that I believe is doing something important.”