It would take quite a bit of looking to find a computer science Ph.D. candidate with a stronger curriculum vitae than the one Jessica Baron will take with her when she graduates from Clemson University.
Baron studied at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland as a Fulbright fellow and has been an intern at some of the most recognizable companies in her field, including Pixar Animation Studios, Epic Games and Weta Digital.
She has showcased her research at SIGGRAPH, a leading computer graphics conference, and she helped build a unique device that helps her model the complex appearance of feathers and helps fellow researchers model human faces.
Now Baron has another high honor to add to her quickly growing list of accomplishments. She is receiving a $20,000 Scholar Award from the Philanthropic Educational Organization Sisterhood, an organization that provides educational opportunities for women.
Baron said the award helps clarify her next steps and puts her on course to receive her Ph.D. in May 2024. Receiving the honor from a women’s organization made it all the more special to her.
“I work in an area of computer graphics called rendering, and that concerns the software that generates realistic images,” she said. “I can think of one other woman who works on software similar to what I do. So, I think it’s impactful for me to have this recognition as a woman and to be in a position to help make people aware of this very cool topic.”
Baron went to the University of North Carolina Wilmington for her Bachelor of Science in computer science. During her undergraduate years, she had the opportunity to study under Professor Eric Patterson.
Patterson said that he offered his students a higher grade if they would turn in their assignments early, and only Baron did it everytime. She submitted some of the best projects in his programming class, he said.
When Patterson joined Clemson’s Digital Production Arts program in 2016, he encouraged Baron to consider enrolling as a graduate student. She did, and Patterson has served as her advisor ever since.
Baron received her Master of Science in computer science from Clemson in 2018 and decided to stay for her doctorate.
“I have been doing this for close to 21 years, and I can count on one hand the number of students who have a CV close to what she has,” said Patterson, who is now director of Digital Production Arts. “Along with being an intelligent and driven person, she has really maximized her opportunities.”
Baron has been based at the Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston, where Digital Production Arts has most of its facilities and students.
One of her closest collaborators is fellow Ph.D. student Xiang Li. They worked together to build and write the software for a device they call Varis. The spherical device, equipped with lights and cameras, helps capture and model real-world materials, such as feathers and human faces.
“She’s not just my lab mate, she’s my friend,” Li said. “She deserves everything. Look at her CV– awesome! She has had lots of opportunities outside of the United States and has had really good internships and really good publications. She deserves the scholarship and will do well in the future.”
When Baron interned at Pixar, she collaborated with Principal Scientist Per Christensen on a project for RenderMan, a software tool used to create high-quality visual effects and computer-generated imagery in movies, TV shows and video games. He was impressed with her methodical attitude and attention to detail.
“We found a project for her and turned her loose on it, and she did a very good job,” Christensen said. “Anybody would be lucky to have her– that’s for sure.”
Baron said that after receiving her Ph.D., she would like to work in industry and that she might consider returning to academia to teach later in her career.
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