Life Beyond Reed

Emily Corso '10 & Gina Collecchia ’09.

December 1, 2016

Our recurring series explores how the liberal arts shape the careers of Reed grads

Emily Corso ’10

Mixed martial arts fighter, fitness coach

Emily arrived at Reed as a mild-mannered, self-described “goth nerd” with ambitions of being a librarian. Six months after graduating with a religion degree, she was stepping into a cage to do combat as a mixed martial arts fighter, dubbing herself the Mantis Shrimp after a notoriously vicious crustacean. She credits her time at Reed for teaching her to be tough, whether that involved writing her senior thesis,  pummeling an opponent in the ring, or, more recently, launching her own company—Bold & Badass Fitness.

Thesis: Opening the Black Box of Jewish Literacy: an Evaluation of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-Schools as a Response to the 'Crisis of Continuity.' Advisor:Prof. Steve Wasserstrom [religion 1987–]

Why did you choose Reed? Coming out of a small, rural town (Sitka, Alaska), I had purple hair and piercings and felt pretty misunderstood. I wanted to go where people cared about stuff, whatever it was, and where you could be into Shakespeare and System of a Down. Reed was my top choice.

How did Reed prepare you to pursue a career as a professional fighter? I was never very athletic; then I took a self-defense class freshman year for my PE requirement. At first it was a way to blow off steam and be something more than a brain in a jar. It wound up being a transformative experience.

What was your first job after graduation? I worked in a variety of fundraising jobs for non profits—Death with Dignity, Portland Art Museum, Planned Parenthood. I was working 40 hours a week, then catching the bus to the gym to train. Any time I got a new job, I had to tell them I might come to work covered in bruises or with a black eye. It took me time to decide I just couldn’t work in an office any more, and that’s when I bought into my dream of becoming a professional fighter. [Corso hung up her gloves in 2014, highly ranked as a flyweight with a 4-0 pro record.]

Did your Reed education play into your success in the ring? Definitely. I knew I would test myself at Reed. I learned you have to be mentally and physically tough to survive a challenging experience. And all that writing comes in handy now as a businesswoman with writing ad copy and marketing my brand.

How have you enjoyed the transition to becoming an entrepreneur? I highly recommend it! I like working for myself and knowing that the work you put in every day correlates to reaching more people and expanding the business. It’s a little like a student doing a senior thesis—you learn so much, yet there’s always so much more to learn.

Bold & Badass is a very different sort of gym experience—a bit nerdier and more intellectual. We’re oriented to change that goes deeper than your body and transforms your mind, too. And of course, we work with a lot of Reedies. 

Gina Collecchia ’09

Audio engineer

Audio engineering seems like an ideal career for Gina. Passionate about music and gifted at math, she found novel ways to combine these fields at Reed, writing a math thesis on music information retrieval that explored the mathematic similarities between songs, artists, or genres, and developing algorithms that allow machines to make sense of audio data. Since graduation, she has published a book on musical signal processing, earned a masters in music, science, and technology from Stanford, and worked for Bay Area companies. Gina recently became a senior audio software engineer at Jaunt VR, where she leads the development of audio algorithms for virtual reality.

Thesis: The Entropy of Musical Classification. Advisor Prof. Joe Roberts [math 1952–2014]

What does an audio engineer do? At SoundHound, I was working on machine learning for speech recognition, text to speech, and building our knowledge graph for voice search. For a company of about 100 people, we accomplished some pretty huge things—our personal assistant, Hound, is faster than Apple and Google and uses our own speech recognition. I wanted to do more music and audio. At Jaunt, I’ll be responsible for everything audio. Jaunt has a unique, cinematic approach to virtual reality, and it’s all about capturing 3-D content. 

What are you working on now? I’ll be building tools for content creation, binaural (headphone) and Ambisonic (speaker array) audio rendering, and much more. VR is a new frontier for media, so I'm really excited about this new opportunity!

What did you learn at Reed that you’ve carried with you into your career? The high level of work ethic, autonomy, and coursework were a really good setup for research positions, networking, and grad school. 

Who should look at audio engineering? There's a lot of different disciplines that fall into audio engineering: electrical engineering, computer science, linguistics, math, physics, art, psychology—even archaeology! There’s a ton of research to be done on perception of audio and music, and the parts of the brain that it affects. With the developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, I think we’re going to need a lot more of that research.

What are the next big problems for sound engineers to solve? There's still source separation and speech-related problems to solve, but machine learning has opened the door for a lot of creative research. Google is trying to create the next music sensation like the Beatles with neural networks and deep learning. 

Like robots writing and producing music?

Yes. And I’m a little skeptical of that kind of thing. I think part of our attachment to music is the desire to be or be with the rock star—to have a connection to the performer, which I don’t think we could ever have with a robot. But there are Spotify- or Pandora-generated playlists that people love. That is one direction [this field is headed] that is rooted in user experience.

Tags: Books, Film, Music, Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Life Beyond Reed, Sports & Adventures