Jessica Luo’s ‘unforgettable experience’

Jessica at Millenium Poinst

Most of Jessica Luo’s classes during her study abroad at Birmingham City University’s Millennium Point (Faculty of Computing, Engineering, and the Built Environment) facility, where she also recorded many jam sessions in the recording studio.

During her study abroad at Birmingham City University in England during Spring 2022, Jessica (Jessa) Luo ’23, an audio and music engineering major, was able to complete three classes toward her major.

She also decided to audit two other classes. “I thought they would be interesting, and they were!” Luo says.

One, a live sound reinforcement class, allowed her to do live sound gigs in Birmingham and begin working at Parkside Studios JQ with engineer Alastair Jamieson.

Portrait of JessicaThe other, a production and mastering class, allowed her to record and work in the studios at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, “which is like the equivalent of Eastman (School of Music) here,” Luo explains.

She met Mike Exeter, an English sound engineer and record producer who gained prominence working with British rock bands such as Cradle of Filth, Judas Priest and Black Sabbath. She also met Macolm Toft, a veteran audio engineer famous for his ATM Mixing Consoles.

The two “became very important mentors for me,” Luo says.

After the semester ended, she attended an Audio Engineering Society Convention in the Netherlands, meeting even more industry professionals and student peers. She then spent the rest of the summer working at Parkside Studios JQ, recording and mixing tracks for local bands and helping move the studio to a new location—in effect “delving in and learning about the inner-workings of how a studio is set up and how all the hardware is connected.”

These opportunities to network, make personal connections, and gain hands-on experience in her field was one of the highlights of Luo’s study abroad experience, she says. “What started as just a semester abroad became a 7-month unforgettable experience in my academic learning, career development, and personal growth.”

Plans and adjustment

This was not Luo’s first experience traveling abroad. She visited London during winter break in 2019 with the University’s Theatre in England Program. She came back wanting to return to England for a longer stay.

“I love being in new places,” says Luo, who is from Vestal, NY, and traveled frequently with her family while growing up.

She applied directly to the Birmingham City University Exchange Program for audio and music engineers. “It was the first time this program was being offered since the pandemic, so it was a little hard trying to get all the logistics like housing and visa needs figured out,” Luo says. “I was still technically not registered as a student at Birmingham City University at the beginning of January 2022 —about 10 days before my flight—due to some forms that the University of Rochester needed to fill out. However, everything worked out in the end and that’s all that mattered.” 

Though she did not receive any additional funding aside from her financial aid package, she was able to use part of her RIG (Research and Innovation Grant) from the University of Rochester for some of the expenses of her trip.

One the biggest adjustments in Birmingham was “getting used to looking right when I crossed a road,” she says. In addition, “I had gone in very confident and excited, which was great, but I forgot that I was completely alone. It also didn’t help that I had to stay isolated in my room for about week waiting for my covid test when I first arrived. Once I was able to go outside, it got better,” she says.

“I gained more self-confidence and became more independent and extroverted because I had to do everything for myself, such as reaching out for help, seeking opportunities, making friends, and traveling.”

‘You definitely learn more about yourself’

One particularly memorable experience was a solo trip to the Netherlands. “I did so much self-reflection during it and funnily enough, when I was on a canal cruise tour in Amsterdam, I met someone who was a UR alum as well as another family that was from upstate New York!” Luo says.

She also traveled to Ireland with other exchange students she befriended from Spain, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Italy. She also visited Belgium and, closer to her home based, visited London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Bath and Bristol.  

She “definitely” recommends study abroad to other students.

“It sounds cheesy, but you definitely learn more about yourself because you are forced to be alone at the start and you need to advocate for yourself,” Luo says. “You also make friends with people you may have never met otherwise and learn about new perspectives.”

Luo has also made the most of her opportunities in audio and music engineering at the University of Rochester where her dual interests are evaluating spatial audio quality and music production.

For example, as part of the University of Rochester NSF-funded REU program in Data Science Computational Methods for Understanding Music, Media, and the Minds, she performed independent research on the "Binaural Audio Quality Evaluation Using a Binaural Dummy Head and a Spherical Microphone Array." She also does spatial audio research with Ming-Lun Lee, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering. Her senior design project is creating an EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) with ergonomic keys and quality audio output for real wind instrument emulation.

She has pursued her interest in music production by engineering, managing, and running live studio sessions as the Open Session Coordinator for the Audio Engineering Society student chapter. She has been assisted and mentored by senior lecturer Stephen Roessner, a Grammy Award winning sound engineer. Additionally, she is a studio teaching assistant leading hands-on labs that teach microphone techniques, mixing, and using outboard gear.

Luo also performs with the University’s Rock Repertory Ensemble and River Campus Symphony Orchestra. 

She plans to earn a graduate degree in audio and music engineering and pursue a career in academia and music production.

Scenes from places Jessica visited.

Jessica Luo’s travels: At top in front of a statue of the Beatles at the Liverpool pier;, at lower left, at Scheveningen Beach in the Netherlands with other students from Audio Engineering Society Convention, and at lower right, atop Bray Head Cliff in Ireland.