Ianna smiling while on a boat with the CUREE robot

Ianna poses with CUREE, a robot she used to visually assess corals and gauge their health. The photo was taken during fieldwork in the U.S Virgin Islands in 2023.

Photo credit: Courtesy Ianna G.; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Ianna G. ’24


“Brandeis is a place where you can follow multiple interests to see where they lead.”

When she first arrived at Brandeis, Ianna never expected she’d be one day swimming with robots on a tropical island. Through a summer 2023 internship with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, however, she was able to dip her toes — literally — into the niche world of marine robotics.

The internship is a natural culmination of her work over the past four years: thanks to a recommendation and guidance from environmental studies professor Dan Perlman, Ianna — a dual major in computer science and environmental studies — has spent the past few summers with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars program, a nonprofit organization that pairs students with environmental scientists to do hands-on field research.

In prior years, the program has taken her to the White Mountains of central California, where she studied the ecological impact of forest fires; the beaches of Santa Cruz, where she used drone technology to survey elephant seal populations; and to Bocas del Toro, Panama, where she and her classmates dove beneath the waves to survey the health of nearby corals.

“We’d go to different parts of the archipelago and snorkel, take photos, measure the different sizes, and try to qualify them. That’s when I realized I really loved working in the ocean,” she says.

In the summer of 2023, the program helped her land an internship with the famed Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), where she joined a team of researchers working in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Under the guidance of WHOI scientists and graduate students, she quickly learned how to write software to let underwater robots autonomously record coral growth on reefs near shore.

“I had two weeks to learn how to create a neural network and use it to identify corals from a camera aboard the lab’s robot,” she said. “I didn’t have any previous experience with that, but it was super fun to teach myself and get guidance from other lab members.”

Ianna working indoors with a robot

During her internship at WHOI, Ianna learned to not only prepare an autonomous underwater robot for visual surveys, but perform basic maintenance on its mechanical and electronic systems as well.

Ianna speaking with a group of people

At the end of her two-month internship, Ianna presents her work in a poster session for fellow interns, graduate students, and faculty at WHOI.

After graduation, Ianna plans to continue her work in marine robotics in graduate school. It’s been a circuitous path to find her passion — but the fact that Brandeis faculty and staff encouraged and supported her at every turn was invaluable, she says.

“If I had a word of advice for incoming students, it’s to explore as much as you can while you’re here. Brandeis is a place where you can follow multiple interests to see where they lead,” she said. “You only have four years here, so try as many new things as you can — there’s no down side.”