ASU graduate combines passion for twirling performance, technology

ASU graduating student twirling baton for ASU. Foreground is Cody with baton in action, background is blurred shot of audience in stadium

Cody Carter's twirling skill has been seen on Season 11 of "America’s Got Talent," in The State Press, on the field with the Sun Devil Marching Band and in world championship competitions. Photo courtesy of Mark Quiñones


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Cody Carter is graduating this spring from the School of Arts, Media and Engineering with a bachelor's degree in digital culture (theatre). Carter brought more than a decade of experience in baton twirling to Arizona State University and has integrated this talent into his projects — which combine arts and technology — as an honors student.

In addition to his passion for twirling – seen on Season 11 of "America’s Got Talent," in The State Press, on the field with the Sun Devil Marching Band and in world championship competitions – Carter also has a passion for sound and lighting design, which have been the focus of his studies as a digital culture student. 

Early in his time at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, he realized he could pair the two.

“I had this moment where I realized I could take my two passions of baton twirling and my major through (the School of ) Arts, Media and Engineering and merge them together into a creative project,” he said. “I feel like the School of Arts, Media and Engineering focuses a lot on interactive design and immersive experience. Having the foundation of the theatrical skills that come with baton twirling made me realize I could capture the movement data with sensors to extend the art form and design an environment that responds to these gestures.”

Carter has created an interactive system that sends data from a sensor on his baton to a computer. Once the data reaches the computer, depending on how he has programmed the software to respond, a stunning display of stage lights and sounds accompanies the baton twirling in real time. 

Carter credits his success to exploring interactive sound in Clinical Assistant Professor Seth Thorn’s Wearable Music course. Lessons on programming microcontrollers like Arduino to send gestural data to computer software helped Carter’s baton twirling ideas come to life and challenged him to bring it all together. He incorporated this into his thesis work with Barrett, The Honors College. Carter attributes success with his honors thesis to Clinical Assistant Professor Kimberlee Swisher of the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, who served as his committee chair. He also said mentors from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, including professors William Kirkham and Daniel Jaquette, and his baton twirling coach, Jerry Alvarez, have also supported him throughout his time at ASU.

Carter said he owes his success at ASU to the scholarships he received, including the Charles and Christine Michaels scholarship and the New American University Scholar award.

Following his honors thesis defense and graduation, Carter will continue working with his interactive baton twirling design. Plans are in place for showcasing the work through public performance where students and artists can use the concept with interactive technology. As the project develops further, Carter will incorporate his design into the professional baton twirling setting.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: The moment I had the realization of what I wanted to major in at ASU took place at the ASU Open Door Event. Once a year, ASU opens their doors and lets the community see what each campus has to offer. I witnessed the creative demos and projects from digital culture students in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. After seeing these projects, I knew digital culture (theatre production) was the major for me.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: The Human Event is a first-year required course in Barrett, The Honors College. It is an honors take on a humanities course that is set up in a Socratic seminar style. This means the students lead the conversations and share and build on ideas from each other regarding literature ranging from philosophy to art. It was in this class that my perspective of sharing my own thoughts, and learning how to collaboratively and critically think, was changed forever.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because it is the school of innovation. I have been a competitive baton twirler for 14 years and always aspired to be a baton twirler for a major university. Because my twirling style is very unique and innovative, in that I incorporate hip-hop footwork and breakdance styles within my twirling, it seemed like the perfect fit, and it turned out it was!

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My audio Professor Daniel Jaquette, who I have had the pleasure of taking the past six semesters of sound technology and design classes with, taught me my most memorable lesson during my college career. His teaching philosophy, which came from his own experience in the professional field, stated that the education he is giving us is at a much higher level of thinking and quality than 70% of the professionals working in the live-production sound design field. When I heard this, I realized how my education at ASU will successfully shape my professional career foundation to be at the highest level.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A: Get involved, but especially choose things that really interest you. ASU has events, talks, seminars, productions and research opportunities for students to learn from industry professionals. If you apply yourself and take advantage of these opportunities in your areas of interest, you are sure to discover your successful career path. Don’t let these opportunities pass you by; your college years will go quicker than you think.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: My favorite spot on campus was Desert Financial Arena, where I, as a Sun Devil feature twirler, have so many great memories of countless baton twirling practices. This was the place where I could “get in the zone” as I prepared for upcoming performances that I would do at many sporting events on campus.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I want to keep twirling professionally and also freelance in concert/theater lighting and sound design.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: In high school, I had the opportunity to work with students with disabilities. I enjoyed volunteering and teaching these students my passion, which was baton twirling. With the $40 million, I would like to find ways to provide more support for people with disabilities or differing abilities. The support and accessibility that these individuals need has come a long way over the years; however, it is still lacking in many areas. My goal would be to provide every individual, no matter what their needs are, the opportunity to lead a fulfilled life.

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