Ashell Fox, undergraduate student at CU Denver, sits and works with audio recording toolse students

Q&A with Undergrad Sound Design Researcher, Ashell Fox

February 19, 2021

As a EURēCA! student in the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA), Ashell Fox has delved into his true passion, sound design, to help Cecilia Wu, PhD, assistant professor in the College of Arts & Media (CAM), develop a music production course. A senior in CAM, Fox worked closely with EURēCA! (Education Through Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities) student ambassador Jacob Torrens to outline his research plans and discuss the joys and challenges of his role. 

Jacob: Can you tell me about how you got to CU Denver and why you chose your major? 

Ashell: I’m originally from a little city called La Paz in Baja, Mexico. In 2016, I moved to Colorado to study film at the Colorado Film School, where I got my associate of applied science degree in post-production. I didn’t feel I was prepared to embark on a journey as an audio engineer. I could definitely get a job as an editor, but in terms of audio, I felt like I wasn’t prepared. So, my parents said, “Look, if you want to try the other degree, this is your passion… We’ll give you another shot.” I transferred to the University of Colorado Denver in 2019, where I started studying audio engineering in the Recording Arts Program in the College of Arts and Media (CAM). I’m now a senior and about to embark on my journey in the master’s program! 

Jake: Wow, that that’s great story, So, how did you get into your research? 

Ashell: I took a couple of classes with Dr. Cecilia Wu. I would come up to her to ask questions, and she could see that I was really interested in sound design. We developed a great relationship. And from there, she asked me if I would like to help design a course in music production and audio engineering. She said, “I want to know if you want to be a part of it, because I see that you have the talent and the passion,” and I was really humbled. That was incredible, because that is exactly what I like doing. I love teaching my craft in my spare time. 

Ashell Fox working in the College of Arts & Media studio
“What really made my experience incredible at this university, what completely changed my perspective and opened the doors to a lot of things, was being able to do this research,” said Fox. “Being able to have a mentor that genuinely cares about your education pushes you further and challenges you in a very productive way.”

Jacob: That’s awesome. How would you describe the research you do in your field? 

Ashell: Sound design is a fast-growing field that offers numerous job opportunities to our music students, especially in the music, film, and television industries. Due to the growing accessibility of computers and advances in technology, it is becoming increasingly more common to work with sound design and audio manipulation tools. The development of teaching methods for sound design in higher education is a relatively unexplored field. 

Many students, including myself, have expressed the difficulty of online learning. Many students may be facing financial hardship due to the pandemic and that’s one of the bigger points here, too. It is important to remember that sound design is an abstract concept that requires a deep understanding of science and audio. Because of these factors, Dr. Wu and I took the opportunity to develop our sound design class with an affordable and easy-to-understand approach. 

Jacob: What were some of your biggest challenges or barriers from COVID-19? 

Ashell: It’s kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time to work from home. I do enjoy my alone time and being at home is really nice, but I know not every student learns the best through remote classes. I know how hard it is sometimes to actually learn online. And then you also have all this horrible news going on recently, which does affect your mood. I’m pretty solid emotionally, but it does take a toll on me sometimes. We have to help each other, and you and your mentor can help each other out. 

Jacob: Sounds like you took advantage of a bad situation and made it work for you. That’s great. At this point, what’s the progression or evolution of your research? 

Ashell: We have our data. Now we will analyze the data and formulate our conclusions. The end goal of this whole research is to have an article published with Dr. Wu and I in the Audio Engineering Society journal. This will give us a lot of credibility and is wonderful to have on my resume. Having a published article means you have extensive knowledge in a field and shows your determination and the love that you have for your field. That’s the reason why I’m going to pursue a master’s degree after this. 

I am an undergraduate student, doing graduate-level research, which is also something that you don’t see a lot at the university. I’ve received a few grants—one from the EURēCA! work-study program, one from being a EURēCA! Summer Fellow, and now one from the UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program) program as well. Right now, I’m trying to get a graduate grant from the Audio Engineering Society, which would, again, add a lot to my portfolio. 

Jacob: Yeah, can’t agree more with you. 

Ashell: You know, going to college is awesome and learning your passion and your craft is amazing. But what really made my experience incredible at this university, what completely changed my perspective and opened the doors to a lot of things, was being able to do this research. Being able to have a mentor that genuinely cares about your education pushes you further and challenges you in a very productive way. Thanks to being an assistant to Dr. Wu, I have received a lot of opportunities. Definitely get close to your instructors and ask them questions. They are there for you and they will make your experience at the university worth it. 

Jacob: What is your last piece of advice? 

Ashell: Get a student job at the university where you can get involved. If you’re like me, coming from a different country, I was kind of intimidated because the school system is a little bit different here. What helped me is getting a student job because I got to meet people and learn the inner workings of the university. When you get to interact with students, you learn so much more about everything that’s related to what you want to do. 

 Contributed by Elizabeth Evans and Jacob Torrens on behalf of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities. Learn more about undergraduate research opportunities at the URCA website. 

Have your own research idea? Apply for a Full 2021/2022 UROP Grant of up to $1,200 before March 5 to cover your research costs, supplies, and more! Find details and application here.