Published September 22, 2021 by Bowdoin News

Eric Chown Appointed Bowdoin's First Sarah and James Bowdoin Professor of Digital and Computational Studies

In recognition of his achievements as a scholar and educator, Eric Chown has been named the Sarah and James Bowdoin Professor of Digital and Computational Studies.
Eric Chown
Eric Chown

Arriving at Bowdoin in 1998, Chown taught in the computer science department for twenty-one years before becoming a founding member of the Digital and Computational Studies (DCS) program in 2019.

In 2001, in recognition of his work on computational models of space, he was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award, presented in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through research and education, and the integration of these endeavors in the contest of their organizations’ missions.

He has also [been awarded several other NSF grants for his work in machine learning and robotics. Chown spent twelve years as team leader of the Northern Bites, Bowdoin’s RoboCup team. The team won the world championship in 2007 and had several other top-three finishes in other world competitions. His research areas also include computational models of human learning, emotions, cognitive robotics, and most recently, digital metaphors.

His upcoming book, Meaning-full Technology, is a collaboration with colleague Fernando Nascimento and is due to be published in early 2022. Chown earned his bachelor’s degree and a master’s in science at Northwestern University, and his doctorate at the University of Michigan.

“I got interested in computer science because it was both fun and useful, and especially because it could be applied to everything. DCS takes the ‘it can be applied to everything’ to a whole new level,” Chown said. “Every day more of what we do is mediated by our devices. We need to understand that and think critically about the implications both for us as individuals and for society as a whole.” 

The Sarah and James Bowdoin Professorship of Digital and Computational Studies was created through an anonymous gift bestowed to the College in 2019.

“Endowed chairs offer us the opportunity to honor and support individual faculty who contribute in powerful ways to the vibrant intellectual life of the College,” said Dean for Academic Affairs Jennifer Scanlon. “Professor Chown, a true teacher-scholar, also contributed in significant ways to the development of digital and computational studies at the College.” 

In addition to honoring and supporting Professor Chown and his work, Scanlon notes, “Endowed chairs also honor the donors whose financial support makes this form of recognition possible. We are enormously grateful.”

"Meaning-full Technologyā€¯

In his inaugural lecture as Sarah and James Bowdoin Professor of Digital and Computational Studies, Eric Chown spoke about his research into the ways in which our mobile technology is redefining basic concepts like friendship, conversation, and memory. As these concepts morph, our interactions with each other, and how we think, are changing. "The mechanism by which this occurs is based on metaphor," he argues. In his talk, Chown makes the case for taking a critical look at digital metaphors (and shows off some soccer-playing robots along the way).