Heather Pon-Barry

Associate Professor of Computer Science; on leave Spring 2022
Spoken language processing, emotion recognition, human-robot interaction, artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, cognitive science

Heather Pon-Barry’s research in the area of spoken language processing combines elements of artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, signal processing and cognitive science. She develops technologies for speech interfaces that analyze the acoustics and intonation of a person's speech to augment traditional speech recognition—essentially teaching computers to move beyond just the words a person says and incorporate other signals. Pon-Barry focuses primarily on natural language communication in human-robot interaction and spoken dialogue in educational technology applications such as personalized, intelligent tutoring.

Pon-Barry earned a doctorate in computer science from Harvard University where she was named a 2013 Siebel Scholar. Her research was supported by a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship (NDSEG) and a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship. Previously, she worked in the Natural Language Understanding Group at Bosch Research and Technology Center in Palo Alto, California and in the Computational Semantics Lab at the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University.

At Mount Holyoke Pon-Barry teaches courses in artificial intelligence, natural language processing, and advanced object-oriented programming. She previously was an assistant professor of computer science at Arizona State University.

Recent Campus News

Lydia Cheah ’20 took the Theory of Computation class at Mount Holyoke. She subsequently created videos as an independent study. Initially meant to support Mount Holyoke students, now the videos have thousands of views on YouTube.

Shifting climate in tech

Spurred by the mentoring of Mount Holyoke professors, Lydia Cheah ’20 has found herself leading the way to reshape the computer science career track. 

Nine faculty members have been granted tenure. Top row, l-r: Olivia Aguilar; Riché J. Daniel Barnes; Thomas Ciufo. Middle row, l-r: Naomi Darling; Nina Emery; Kerstin Nordstrom. Bottom row, l-r: Heather Pon-Barry; Jared Schwartzer; Jennifer Wallace Jacoby

Nine faculty receive tenure

The Mount Holyoke College Board of Trustees has voted to grant tenure to nine faculty members spanning disciplines from gender studies to physics. 


February at Mount Holyoke

February at Mount Holyoke featured Black History Month events, Princeton Review rankings, outstanding student-athletes and of course valentines.

Heather Pon-Barry sitting on the floor with a small, humanoid robot.

The key to STEMtastic robot tutors? Dialogue.

Heather Pon-Barry received the prestigious CAREER award for her work in developing educational — and socially intelligent — robots.

When Hashma Shahid ’17 and Onji Bae ’18 discovered computer science at Mount Holyoke, their lives — and many others — were changed.

Computing for social impact

Girls in Tech, a day-long conference, was created by two Mount Holyoke students to introduce high school girls to the possibility of careers in technology.

Recent Grants

Microsoft Corporation grant for the project "Development of Core Modules as Curricular Assets for Tech Mentorship Initiative." The project is for 2.5 months. Combined award to Audrey St. John (Computer Science), Heather Pon-Barry (Computer Science) and Becky Packard (Psychology and Education).

National Science Foundation grant for her project 'CAREER: Dialogue Engagement for Educational Robots.' The project is for five years. (2020)

Recent Publications

Heather Pon-Barry, Audrey St. John, Becky Packard, Barbara Rotundo. Megas and Gigas Educate (MaGE): A Curricular Peer Mentoring Program. Poster in Proc. of 47th ACM Technical Symposium on Computing Science Education (SIGCSE 2016), Memphis, TN, 2016.