Meet the first graduate of FIU’s Bridge to the Doctorate program

John Gibson, electrical engineering doctoral student and first Bridge to the Doctorate program graduate

John Gibson, electrical and computer engineering doctoral student and first Bridge to the Doctorate program graduate

At a young age, John Gibson loved breaking things apart and putting them back together. In a computer class he took during high school, Gibson, with permission from his teacher, would dismantle computers and learn how to put them back to their original state.

As fate would have it, Gibson pursued computer engineering after high school. This Spring Commencement, he will end his journey at FIU with a doctoral degree in electrical and computer engineering, making him the first in his family to obtain a doctoral degree. He is also the first graduate from FIU’s National Science Foundation (NSF) Bridge to the Doctorate program.

The Bridge to the Doctorate program is a fellowship program that helps underrepresented students pursue graduate degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Students in this program, like Gibson, receive a full-tuition waiver and an annual living stipend of $32,000 for the first two years, allowing students to solely focus on research. When the program was first launched, the living stipend was $30,000. The program also provides students with professional development workshops, seminars, networking events, state-of-the-art facilities and mentors to guide them through their doctoral journey.

“What I’ve loved most about this program are all the resources available to us. By being in this program, I’ve worked on hands-on projects with mentors and have connected with different companies in the industry,” Gibson says. “I’ve had internships in three sectors: academia, research and private businesses. In 2015, I interned at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, for space communication. I worked on an antenna to communicate with the International Space Shuttle.”

Associate Professor Stavros Georgakopoulos was Gibson’s Ph.D. advisor. Georgakopoulos introduced Gibson to the field of antennas and electromagnetics.

“Gibson was an exceptional doctoral student as he was not afraid to try new things and conduct research on topics that blend different fields of science, such as chemistry and electromagnetics,” said Georgakopoulos. “Students should be inspired by Gibson’s example and pursue multidisciplinary education as many important problems today involve more than one field. In fact, during my first meeting with John what impressed me and led me to recruit Gibson as a doctoral student was his diverse undergraduate education that combined computer engineering and chemistry.”

The Bridge to the Doctorate program at FIU includes 11 different majors, allowing students within the same program, but from different majors to interact and discuss STEM research with each other. The uniqueness of this program is the strong network of support that is garnered by the interdisciplinary nature of the program.

“FIU’s Bridge to the Doctorate program goes hand-in-hand with the university’s mission of having a more diverse community and student population. This program offers first generation minority students a chance to pursue doctoral degrees and inspires other underrepresented students to keep pushing for a better future by obtaining an education,” says Shekhar Bhansali, co-director of FIU’s Bridge to the Doctorate program and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Students in the program are also encouraged to give back to the community and connect with younger students aspiring to pursue careers in STEM fields. Gibson volunteers as a math tutor on campus to Golden Scholars, which consists of a group of minority undergraduate students. In 2016, he visited pre-collegiate students at Carol City High School and taught them an HTML course on building websites. Gibson is also part owner of Capoeira Superação Arts and Fitness Studio, where he teaches kids as young as four-years-old to adults in their late 50s this type of Brazilian martial arts.

After graduation, Gibson will be working at the Air Force Research Laboratory as an electronics engineer. Gibson interned at the laboratory in the summer of 2016; he built countermeasure systems to protect military planes and helicopters from missiles.

The Bridge to the Doctorate program is funded by the National Science Foundation, in partnership with the Florida-Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP). Applicants interested in the program must have earned a bachelor’s in a STEM discipline, participated in the LSAMP program, be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident and have a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA.

“Take every opportunity,” Gibson says . “A high grade point average doesn’t necessarily mean much if a student doesn’t have experience, whether that be an internship or job. Take every opportunity.”