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A coder discovers her power to heal

Kathy Guo sits at a table and looks off into the distance. Kathy Guo is the first to admit she wasn’t looking at the big picture.

computer science and engineering major, Guo has spent three years working in Ohio State’s Speech, Language and Music (SLAM) Lab. During that time, she developed an app called TheraBeat to help those suffering from aphasia, a communication disorder, regain speech and comprehension through rhythm therapy. 

In the SLAM Lab’s first clinical trial, a stroke victim used TheraBeat as part of her rehabilitation, which involved tapping a rhythm while saying words and phrases. 

Her progression was breathtaking

“Seeing her progress really left me inspired,” said Guo, who will graduate in May with a specialization in database systems and data analytics with a minor in business analytics. “Working on TheraBeat, I’m focused on the problem and the technical vision. But after the first trial ended and we saw the effect it had on her, I was astonished. 

“I realized how big an impact our work could have in someone else’s life.”

The SLAM Lab, under the direction of Assistant Professor Yune Lee, investigates the connections among speech, music — specifically rhythm — and language. Members of SLAM bring various academic disciplines and musical backgrounds but share a passion for helping those suffering from conditions such as aphasia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. SLAM Lab’s work contributes to the groundbreaking advancements Ohio State in its focused work on chronic brain injury.

Guo is on the aphasia team, which includes Kristen McCormack, a speech language pathology graduate student who works with people who have neurogenic communication disorders, and Matthew Heard, a PhD student in neuroscience who excels at analyzing data.

“It’s really eye-opening to see a problem from different perspectives,” said Guo, who joined SLAM Lab her sophomore year because of her interest in psychology and playing the violin. 

Her computer science and engineering major was Guo’s ticket into the lab. Almost immediately, SLAM Lab revealed what Ohio State can do for students.

“Ohio State offers many opportunities outside of your major to expand your knowledge and find interest in something,” Guo said. “When I joined SLAM Lab, that was the moment it clicked for me.”

Guo said the scholarships she received — including the Provost and CSE Morell — eased her financial burden and gave her time to work at SLAM Lab, pursue internships and join clubs. 

She was active in D3 and Women in Engineering and participated in Datafest as a team captain. Her internships included working as a software engineer at the Ohio Supercomputer Center before she started as a technologies intern at Target. 

Those experiences and academics, along with Engineering Career Services, helped her land a job at Capital One. When she begins there in August, she will be part of the Technology Develop Program, a two-year rotational program that will allow her to explore areas of software engineering.

“What I really like about computer science is there are so many interesting areas to explore,” Guo said. “It’s not just about coding. It can improve so many people’s lives.”

by Ross Bishoff, University Marketing