ACM SIGGRAPH is thrilled to announce Ginger Alford, Southern Methodist University (SMU) Lyle School of Engineering, as SIGGRAPH 2025 Conference Chair. Alford — who first discovered SIGGRAPH in the ‘90s when she was a software engineer — has been volunteering with the conference since 2013 and currently serves as Assistant Chair and Clinical Professor of Computer Science at SMU in Dallas. Prior to joining SMU in 2019, Alford held leadership roles in various organizations developing and directing programs. She brings that breadth of organizational experience to her new role in SIGGRAPH.
At the heart of Alford’s enthusiasm for taking on the role of conference chair is the opportunity to work closely and interact with the people. “I am very pleased to serve as SIGGRAPH 2025 Conference Chair,” Alford says. “I enjoy the people so much. It’s an honor.” Read on to get to know more about Alford, including her career story, her passion for SIGGRAPH, and her visions for SIGGRAPH 2025.
The Common Thread
Alford works in the spaces of computer graphics, AR/VR, computer vision, machine learning, and education. When asked what first piqued her interest in this area, she notes that she originally wanted to study philosophy and ended up with a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering. Coming from a family of professors, she always planned to find her way to academics after gaining industry experience and using that to shape her interests. What seems like an unlikely path is, actually, very much connected, especially as Alford would title a memoir about her career thus far as “Not as Random as It Seems”. The common thread? Visual computing.
When Alford first attended SIGGRAPH, her background in math and computer science had not yet intersected the worlds of art and interaction and story. This is why SIGGRAPH enthralled her, as it was one of the first places she witnessed true, great, interdisciplinary work and research in practice.
Today, Alford’s research focuses on the use of novel light field displays and immersive environments in museum settings. What advancements does she predict are on the horizon? “Immersive environments and novel displays have wonderful potential to create ‘teachable moments,’” she says. “We are researching content and best practices to capture that moment and how to use it for effective learning. Museums are great opportunities for educating the general public — they seek to serve a large community — so the impact can be broad, but the challenges are great. Museum attendees vary greatly in age and lived experiences. The encounters are brief — often only seconds long! We see a future that incorporates machine learning to personalize experiences for each learner and to adapt the content to maximize engagement.”
She also is involved in new methods to improve aerial drone shows and in working with K-12 schools to pilot innovative arts-centered engineering education programs. A big hit has been “humanimatronics” — a program that embeds robotics education in a middle school humanities classroom! Student teams write original scripts with imagined dialogue between historical and literary characters they have studied and then build animatronics characters to perform the show.
The SIGGRAPH Experience
With many years spent volunteering for and attending SIGGRAPH conferences, Alford calls her involvement with SIGGRAPH both personally and professionally rewarding. “I never fail to be inspired by SIGGRAPH,” she says. “It is full of fascinating people with a great passion for their work and for being part of the community. I have made some wonderful friends through volunteering.”
Every SIGGRAPH enthusiast has their own favorite memory. For Alford, her all-time favorite experience was “Birdly” from SIGGRAPH 2014. “Birdly” simulated the sensation of soaring over a city as a bird — flapping wings, air in the face, and all. “There was a line to try it, and it was so compelling that I completely forgot how ridiculous I might have looked to those in line, lying flat on my stomach on a table, flapping my arms in the ‘real world.” However, Alford declares that experience was “worth it!” With so many memories to reflect on, what does Alford have in mind for shaping her conference year as we approach SIGGRAPH 2025?
Visions for the Future
While SIGGRAPH 2025 is still a couple of years out, Alford is eager to share insight into her potential visions and areas of focus for the conference. “I have heard attendees say that there is a certain ‘magic’ they feel when attending SIGGRAPH,” Alford explains. “This comes from the high standards of excellence and novelty that are represented in every single one of the programs. Across all of SIGGRAPH’s venues, we glimpse the future of technology, we experience the best of storytelling, and we challenge our thinking about our human relationship with technology.
With this in mind, what does Alford envision for the content and experience that will come with SIGGRAPH 2025? “I think we will see growing content in interaction and new interfaces, such as haptics and brain-computer interfaces. We will see our community expand the use of new display forms to include flying displays and 3D displays. I also see more critical conversations about ethics and societal impact, as the technology we create becomes embedded in society, enmeshed with AI, and indiscernible from reality,” she says, before adding: “I see a very immersive and collaborative future!”
According to Alford, the SIGGRAPH “magic” comes from you — participants, contributors, the computer graphics and interactive techniques community. “I want to do what I can to create a great and engaging experience for every single person and to strengthen and grow the community,” Alford says. While Alford is looking forward to so much about leading SIGGRAPH 2025, one aspect stands out above the rest. “In a word — people!” she says. “Working with the talented volunteers on the committee, working with the professional conference management team, meeting with more people. I also look forward to what I’ll learn in the process and from the people of SIGGRAPH.”
See You Soon!
Before Alford leads the way to SIGGRAPH 2025, Andres Burbano will be at the helm of SIGGRAPH 2024. This year, be sure to join SIGGRAPH 2023 Conference Chair Erik Brunvand and committee in Los Angeles, 6–10 August, to celebrate 50 years of SIGGRAPH conferences. (Alford is serving as this year’s Frontiers Chair!) Many programs are currently accepting submissions — visit the SIGGRAPH 2023 website to find out how you can make history.