First female grad of Master’s in IoT pays it forward

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.

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