The Icarus

Meet Dr. Sarah Ita Levitan

 · 2 min read

Dr. Sarah Ita Levitan is the newest member of Hunter College's Computer Science faculty. She joins us as an assistant professor. This fall, she is teaching the language technology elective (CSCI 49362). In Spring of 2021, she will be teaching the required computer theory course (CSCI 265).

Dr. Levitan was previously a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University—but she is no stranger to CUNY. She got her B.S. in computer science from Brooklyn College, then her M.S. and PhD from Columbia. "I am excited to be returning to CUNY as a professor and to work with the excellent students here," she wrote in email correspondance with The Icarus. She will be teaching and conducting research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Dr. Levitan's area of specialty is spoken language processing. This is related to Natural Language Processing (NLP), the study of how computers may recognize human languages. She is particularly interested in paralinguistics, the study of nonverbal aspects of speech that give away personality traits, emotions, and deception. The chair of the computer science department, Professor William Sakas, has also done research in the NLP field. NLP specialists have long found a home at Hunter, including several emeritus faculty.

Over the last decade, Dr. Levitan researched computational techniques to learn more about a speaker. She has studied how different cultures have different methods of deception (lying). She worked on a game with an AI that learns how humans detect deception in speech. She has also studied quantitative ways of detecting schizophrenia from Reddit posts. Perhaps most consequentially, she studied how Supreme Court lawyers intimidate lawyers into speaking more like them. You can read her publications here.

The Language Technology elective is new this year. It is a project based course, giving students a chance to collaboratively explore solutions to challenging problems in NLP. Dr. Levitan wants to impart a solid foundational understanding of language processing algorithms before asking students to implement and "come up with their own creative solutions."

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced classroom operations to go virtual for both Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. Dr. Levitan has previously taught guest lectures remotely, but this is her first time teaching a full class online. To prepare, she attended workshops to learn how to effectively teach in a remote classroom. "I am looking forward to it!" she says.

When asked what she wants students taking her classes to know about her, she had this to say:

"I am committed to engage and challenge students from all backgrounds and levels of experience to equip them with skills that they need to succeed. I have been involved in efforts to increase diversity in Computer Science. I am looking forward to teaching and working with students at Hunter!""