Worlds Ahead grad excels in computer engineering


Jolene Fan

Jolene Fan moved across the country when she was only 16 to study computer engineering at FIU. Today she is making waves at a major American insurance company.

Fan traded Southern California for South Florida because she wanted to study at FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing, where her father, Jeffrey Fan, had been a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. That might not sound spectacular, except while most teens are just getting their driver’s licenses, she was launching her college career.

“I had Jolene for three courses. And she was in the top of the class in all three. Not only that, but she was a leader in the class, and other students would go to her for guidance and assistance,” said Herman Watson, undergraduate program director in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. “She is self-motivated, and goes beyond what is asked.”

By age 20, Fan had graduated with her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, and President Mark B. Rosenberg named her a Worlds Ahead graduate. In fact, she remembers initially emailing him when she first arrived at FIU to thank him for being awarded the Presidential Scholarship, never expecting a response. “He actually followed up, and emailed me back, and we ended up having lunch,” Fan said. She stayed in contact with him throughout her undergraduate career.

“Jolene is a natural team leader with a great personality and charisma,” said Gustavo Roig, professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. “She is very disciplined with a strong logical mind.”

Jolene Fan and Pedro Cordon

Jolene Fan and Pedro Cordon

During her sophomore year, Fan met fellow student Pedro Cordon ’14 in a math class, and soon learned they had a similar schedule. The two became close, marrying this past March and relocating to the West Coast where they both work today. Cordon is a computer engineer at a data storage company.

Fan continued her graduate studies online, earning her master’s degree in computer engineering with a focus in network security. During the latter half of the program, she got her first job as a mainframe developer at Pacific Life Insurance Company, in the retirement solutions division located in Newport Beach. She admits she didn’t know what a mainframe was at the time but now describes it as “a supercomputer that can process large amounts of financial transactions.” She applied to the company’s six-month Mainframe Academy, a training program that taught her the code language used at Pacific Life.

Mainframe is traditionally no longer taught in schools, according to Fan, which is why corporations like hers are training the younger workforce to sustain the system. While the mainframe hardware itself will stick around, explained Fan, it will eventually be supported by a new platform and software.

“Since I went to FIU, I have experience in that, and I’m in a good position to help people to transfer the mainframe. I understand the old technology, and the new one as well,” she said.

Rising Women Award

Rising Women Award in Technology

Fan has been in her new job for a little over a year, and is already being recognized for her contributions. She won the Rising Women in Technology Award from the organization, Advancing Women in Technology (AWT), after her director at work nominated her. AWT furthers the professional development and increases opportunities for women in the technology field.

“Jolene’s success is our success, and we are extremely proud of her professional accomplishments,” said Shekhar Bhansali, Alcatel-Lucent professor and chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department within the College of Engineering and Computing. “She exemplifies the type of student we strive to cultivate in our department – hard-working, driven and a critical thinker who then graduates and goes on to make an impact locally and national.”

IBM Systems Magazine recently featured Pacific Life and its Mainframe Academy in an article, and highlighted Fan as one of its case studies. In addition to her work with the insurance company, Fan is consulting on technology projects for a fashion app, and for the Children’s Hunger Fund.