In the Master of Science in Internet of Things program, students learn how a network of devices works to perform complex cohesive actions. For Fantaysia Polanco BS ’21, MS ’22, the program’s first female graduate, her new College of Engineering and Computing degree is helping her connect everything in her life and elevate the people around her.
Equipped with advanced technical skills and the heart of a teacher, Polanco is helping hundreds of children learn about engineering and computer science. She is also excelling in the professional realm. A few days after graduating, Polanco is working at General Motors as a software developer, helping the eCommerce sector expand its functionality.
“In many ways, I don't think I look like the typical engineer. I like pretty long nails, cute earrings and the colors pink and purple,” says Polanco, who comes from Haitian, Dominican and Bahamian lineage. “I think I’m showing people, especially in my community, that there are different types of engineers out there and that Black and Brown girls like myself can be engineers and scientists too.”
As a young girl, Polanco watched her mother work in health care and her grandfather's carpentry craft and knew she wanted to be a biomedical engineer. She eventually chose to pursue the Bachelor and Master of IoT degrees after the program’s faculty presented in one of her undergraduate classes.
“Taking these classes was so much fun,” Polanco says. “You get your hands dirty with different microcontrollers, sensors, networking tools, and IoT platforms.”
In one of her classes, Polanco and her group partners, Luis Leon and Nicolas Contreras designed a proof-of-concept for a wearable device to help people prone to epileptic seizures. The proposed device was a monitoring system based on a low-power Bluetooth communication scheme that registered immediate changes in heart rate and skin characteristics to detect if an individual was having a seizure. The device automatically notified specified individuals or family members.
Throughout her coursework, Polanco studied the physical and software components of electronics, with a focus on how devices communicate with each other.
“People don’t realize how many IoT devices they actually have in their homes,” Polanco says. “We have TVs, remotes, thermostats and even refrigerators that send grocery lists to our phones. There is so much data transmission going on that we don’t see.”
While studying at FIU, Polanco became a skilled coder and participated in selective internships and programs such as the McNair Scholars program, which is designed to increase graduate degrees for students from underrepresented segments of society, including first-generation and low-income individuals. As a McNair scholar, she developed a pipeline that uses QIIME2 for microbiome bioinformatic analysis under the supervision of Professor Kalai Mathee at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and Professor Trevor Cickvoski at the Knight School of Computing and Information Sciences. In addition, she completed an intense bioinformatics internship where she worked on deploying containers to the cloud using Amazon Web Services and Docker. Polanco also participated in UPE Sparkdev, UPE Shellhacks and HackGT hackathon.
Aside from her academics, Polanco was a Resident Assistant at student housing, an active member of many organizations and served as an e-board member for the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). All of these projects and organizations taught Polanco the value of collaboration by working in a group setting and helped her develop leadership, time management and critical thinking skills. These traits are set to help her in her new job with General Motors, where she will work with the eCommerce department.
Polanco has also applied her education to give back to children. Over the last three years, she has taught more than 200 children as young as 7 years old about virtual reality, coding, robotics and 3D printing.
With the Verizon Innovative Learning program at FIU this summer, she helped children design their own 3D structures, among many other projects. She also printed their designs so the kids could take them home. While working with FIU All-Stars in both undergrad and grad school, Polanco traveled to several schools in the Miami area, where she taught middle school students Scratch coding and virtual reality. Polanco now teaches young people from all over the world python, circuitry, 3D printing and machine learning/AI through an online homeschooling platform.
“Some of these kids are such advanced coders,” Polanco says. “Technology in a way is taken for granted, but in so many ways, it has endless possibilities.”
When Polanco first got to college, coding was scary, she says. There were no immediate family members working in the technology industry who could guide her.
The younger generation of her family will not experience the same thing.
“I have a little cousin, and she wants to be an engineer. I enjoy talking about coding and 3D printing with her,” Polanco says. “It warms my heart to be as much of an inspiration as I can be.”
As Polanco continues to reach out to younger people to encourage them to consider engineering, she looks forward to many more firsts. She would like to thank all the professors and mentors at FIU that she has encountered along her journey.
For those interested in learning more about the university’s MS in IoT degree, the first IoT graduate degree in Florida, check out the program’s website.