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Engineering doctoral student receives prestigious national fellowship

Engineering doctoral student receives prestigious national fellowship

April 19, 2021 at 2:49pm

Melany Gutierrez Hernandez, a doctoral student and graduate research assistant in the College of Engineering & Computing  Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was recently selected as a 2021 GEM Fellow.

The National GEM Consortium is an organization of leading corporations, government laboratories, top universities, and top research institutions that enables qualified students from underrepresented communities to pursue graduate education in applied science and engineering.

GEM Fellowships provide a large network, financial support and expert knowledge to help ensure student success in competitive academic and professional environments.

“I’m very thankful and honored to have been chosen for the GEM Fellowship,” says Hernandez. “Not only is it prestigious, but the extensive system of universities and industries is a great resource.”

The highly competitive fellowship includes financial support and a paid internship with a GEM employer member. Hernandez will be working this summer with the Commonwealth Edison Company, which provides electric service to 70 percent of Illinois, in the Smart Grid Emerging Technology Department. A smart grid is an electric grid enhanced with innovative technologies that help improve reliability and service. For example, a smart grid could potentially fix an issue in the field wirelessly, without having to send a team or cut power to other parts of the community.

This practical experience will be of tremendous value.

“Until now, I’ve only ever worked as a researcher and a teacher. Experience in the industry will help broaden my horizons as to what employment opportunities I want to pursue after I graduate,” she says.

Hernandez is also a graduate research assistant in the RF Communications, Millimeter-Wave, and Terahertz Laboratory (RFCOM Lab), where co-director and College of Engineering & Computing Dean John Volakis is her faculty mentor.

“Melany has been a top undergraduate scholar and has worked diligently to make strong research progress as a first-year graduate student. She very much deserves this fellowship," Volakis says.

Hernandez comes from a family of technicians and completed her bachelor’s degree in telecommunications and electronics engineering in her native Cuba.

“I started thinking about the future very early on. Almost everything in our lives today has something to do with electronics, and the field’s growth is so fast," Hernandez says.

After getting a master’s degree in applied mathematics, she wanted to return to engineering and was drawn to FIU after visiting the school’s engineering labs.

The fellowship’s ultimate goal of increasing representation is important to Hernandez.

“When you’re working on an engineering problem, you bring in a number of people with various specialties, and that range of expertise allows the problem to be solved in a much easier way," she says. "Similarly, it’s important for organizations to bring in people from various backgrounds and with various experiences. That wealth of perspectives is an asset.”