Adam Mally to serve as Director of DMD Program

It seems the Computer and Information Science department is in the business of cultivating students so fulfilled with their undergraduate experience, that they return to take on leadership roles in C.I.S. Earlier in the year, former C.I.S. undergrad and Associate Professor Joseph Devietti stepped into the role of Undergrad Chair. Now Lecturer Adam Mally, who graduated from C.I.S. in the Digital Media Design (DMD) Program, is stepping into the role of undergrad DMD Director.

“I started off in what’s now called the ESAP Summer Program, a summer program here at Penn Engineering were high school students can take a three-week long course in a particular subject,” said Mally.

When he applied to college the following winter, the DMD Program at C.I.S. was the only application he filled out.

I loved that combination of technicality with the creativity that this provides. I needed to do DMD: this was so much fun.”

Currently, it’s fair to say that DMD’s biggest draw is gaming animation. Many, if not most, students join the program hoping to land jobs with large corporations within the games industry. Mally is excited to expand DMD’s reach: working with newcomers Danaë Metaxa and Andrew Head, who are heading the incoming Penn HCI Group, is a top priority. There is much opportunity in the field of human computer interaction.

“So many DMDers go into the industry as technical directors or technical artists, where they’re developing tools that their teammates need to work with,” said Mally. “Pretty much any tool they developed needs to be usable by some other people and we don’t cover that aspect of software development at all right now.”

Mally is also planning to broaden the DMD curriculum to include a focus on medical visualization. He’s hoping to work with new PIK Professor Kevin Johnson, who holds a joint appointment in both C.I.S. as well as the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology, and Informatics in the Perelman School of Medicine.

“It’s a pretty big field that we’re just not really getting too many people going through right now,” said Mally. “Integrating into existing classes, or at least a particular existing class: a look at how computer graphics can be used in medicine to visualize, or pre-visualize in some cases, scan data. Or even how people use augmented reality or virtual reality to do medical training.”

At the end of the day, Mally believes that the same things that lit his own DMD fire are essentially what will continue to attract new students year after year.

“They have a huge passion for for the creative aspects that DMD allows them to explore,” said Mally. “I want people to have the knowledge to be able to make games, but I want people to have the tools, the skill set to be able to branch out on their own.” 


PCI and Penn Engineering launch Speaker Series to support innovation activities at Penn

The Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) has put together a fall speaker series focused on resources available for Penn Engineering faculty and students, featuring C.I.S. Professor and GRASP Lab Director Mark Yim.  All are welcome to register for each session separately at

  • Sept 21: Penn I-Corps with Mark Yim, PhD, ASA Whitney Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Director of GRASP Lab, Faculty Director for the Design Studio
  • Oct 13: Med Tech Devices with Katherine Reuther, Ph.D., MBA, Executive Director of the Penn Center for Health-Devices and Technology
  • Nov 10: Pennovation Works and Resources for Startups with Anish Kumar, Managing Director of Pennovation Works

You can read more about these programs as well as broader commercialization news in PCI’s latest newsletter:


Duncan Watts’ “Everyone’s an Influencer” receives the 2021 WSDM Test-of-Time Award

Stevens University Professor Duncan Watts has recently been awarded the 2021 Test-of-Time Award at the 14th ACM International WSDM Conference for his paper titled “Everyone’s an Influencer: Quantifying Influence on Twitter,” published in 2011.

Pronounced “wisdom,” the WSDM (Web Search and Data Mining) Conference is one of many presented by ACM (Association for Computing Machinery), and “publishes original, high-quality papers related to search and data mining on the Web and the Social Web, with an emphasis on practical yet principled novel models of search and data mining, algorithm design and analysis, economic implications, and in-depth experimental analysis of accuracy and performance,” according to their site.

Professor Watts, a PIK (Penn Integrates Knowledge) professor with multiple appointments in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Annenberg School for Communication, and the Wharton School, received the honor along with project teammates Eytan Bakshy, Jake M. Hofman and Winter A. Mason.

The paper’s motivation stems from a years-old debate in the fields of communication, marketing and sociology: do ordinary folk have the power to spread ideas in media? When Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point,” released in 2000, asserted that a very specific portion of regular people were the most effective at spreading and magnifying ideas and products, Professor Watts took up academic arms.

“I had been arguing against this idea for some time,” said Watts. “Not that some people are not more influential than others, but just that there was any sort of magical effect, that you could sort of find some ordinary person and they would somehow trigger this massive cascade that would that would change the world. Which is really sort of the the promise of this book, and why everybody loved it so much. “

Professor Watts and team approached the debate with a foundational scientific perspective: if certain people are more influential, then computer science should be able to predict it.

“If it’s true that certain types of people, for whatever reason, happened to be disproportionately influential in the world and disproportionately good at getting other people to listen to them and to change their minds about some issue, you can do pretty well predicting how many retweets someone’s going to get just by looking at how many followers they have,” said Watts.

Right before the paper was published, Professor Watts recalls that mega influencer Kim Kardashian, with roughly 1 million followers, was charging around $10,000 to mention a product in one tweet. The paper proposal offers that focusing on one influencer with a huge amount of followers is not necessarily the most efficient strategy.

“Maybe you want to pay your $10,000 but you would rather find 1,000 people who have 1,000 followers each,” said Watts. “And they might do it for free. Or they might do it for $1. So then you pay $1,000, and you still reach a million people.”

The three main findings of the paper are as follows:
1. It is nearly impossible to predict, with accuracy, the efficacy of influence
2. To the extent that one could predict it, “it’s all baked into the past success of the person who seeds the information, and most of it is just how many followers you have,” said Watts

And the 3rd:

“Under a broad range of conditions, you’re actually better off going with a large number of people who have not that many followers, then a small number of people with a large number of followers,” said Watts. “And I think each of those findings has sort of reverberated.”