Finding Passion in Computer Science through Research

Sheila Alemany Blanco, Florida International University, Bachelor of Science in Computer Science & Mathematics, 2019

Being a Hispanic woman in a STEM field presents different obstacles for many young women. At times, this means inability to find belonging, purpose, or passion in a discipline. In particular, this rings true within the bouts of undergraduate research. Sheila has broken down those barriers by diving in head first into an array of research activities. Sheila leveraged a positive meeting with two graduate students who were excited about their research in physics, which resulted in her exploration of research opportunities in computer science. Oftentimes, positive role models or helpful examples can trigger one’s shift into new pursuits.

Sheila’s journey as a researcher began by reaching out to Col. Jerry Miller, the Research Coordinator for Florida International University’s Discovery Lab, which is a research laboratory with student-led computer science opportunities. Based on her interests, Col. Miller directed her to start working with Dr. Pissinou on research related to mobile wireless sensor networks.

In mobile wireless networks, sensor nodes contribute to unreliable data for various reasons. Accuracy of data is paramount in decision-making events, and many techniques must be employed to approximate or predict the data. Sheila assisted in the development of the techniques and implemented simulations to evaluate their degree of accuracy.  She enjoyed being able to employ creativity and innovative practices when investigating this research problem. Sheila also assisted in the dissemination of this work through three publications that addressed three different approaches to the problem. The results showed that the developed techniques performed better than popular, high-performing techniques.

Based on these experiences, Sheila confirms, “Doing research has allowed me to find my purpose in computer science.” Truly, finding one’s passion can elevate their desire to make change. Sheila further encourages undergraduate students to take control of their exploration and curiosity by applying to undergraduate research programs to gain experience. Sheila mentions that research has shifted her perspective in regard to what computer science is about: “…it is more than just writing programs”; there is a potential to create profound solutions to complex problems.

Sheila finished her dual B.S. degree in computer science and mathematics, and is now pursuing her Ph.D. in computer science at FIU.

– Written and edited by Robert Bowen and Joslenne Pena

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