Ecuadorian Earns 1st Online Master’s in Internet of Things
Alexis Stalin Alulema Flores recently became the first international student from ECE to earn an online Master of Science Degree in Computer Engineering with a Concentration on the Internet of Things. And he earned this honor without ever setting foot in New Mexico!
Alexis is 45 years old, raised in the city of Otavalo in Ecuador. His parents were schoolteachers who encouraged him to read and learn at an early age. "Thanks to them, I had my first contact with an 8088 computer at age 12 and my first experiences with GW-Basic," Alexis said.
Later, he studied at the Universidad de las Fuerzas Armadas (ESPE) in Ecuador, graduating in 1998.
Alexis's interests in the Internet of Things began at an early age before IoT became a household name.
"I have always loved electronics and software development and have experimented with IoT on personal projects to satisfy my curiosity. However, the current state of the art of technology has pushed me to study IoT and Machine Learning and complement it with my Software Development skills."
"IoT and Machine Learning strongly influenced me to take these graduate studies at ECE," Alexis said. "I have been researching these fields on my own, and more specifically, Natural Language Processing."
Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a methodology that allows an algorithm to understand or generate human language and be used by people in commercial applications such as voice assistants, emotion analysis, or many other existing applications.
"NLP has caught my attention because we, as a species, need to optimize the methods of interacting and obtaining knowledge from the large amount of available data," said Alexis. "Language is the natural way humans interact regardless of the social or technological context of our activities."
Alexis currently lives in Colombia with his wife and two daughters, ages 10 and 1.
"I always wanted to study for a master's degree," Alexis said. "Now that I am a husband and father, I have had the opportunity to achieve this goal, driven mainly by the current development of various technologies that I am daily involved with, and by the curiosity of my daughters."
Alexis works remotely as a Senior Software Developer for Number8, a software development company based in Louisville, KY. Coincidentally, he started working for Number8 while he began studying for the master's degree at ECE. "I have been working in this modality for about ten years, which has been very satisfying because it was able to watch my daughters grow up."
Similarly, online learning worked well for Alexis.
"The online modality of the master's degree at UNM has been perfect for me; it has allowed me to organize my time for work, take care of my family, and dedicate the necessary effort for my studies.
Alexis completed his master's degree entirely online in a couple of years and said he would have loved to travel to Albuquerque and meet his teachers and classmates in person.
"Studying online was not something new for me, as I had previously attended several courses on other platforms," Alexis said. "Still, a process of almost two years has required greater discipline and being aware of the final goal I was pursuing. For my part, it would probably have been much harder to organize my time if the methodology had not been online."
But although online learning proved to be convenient to Alexis, it also had its challenges and rewards.
"In general, all the courses' content was exciting and demanding, and they have given me tools for my current job. Specifically, it was the first time for me to work with FPGAs, and I would like to do some more research in the future for some projects I have in mind," Alexis said.
Although it is 3,000 miles from Colombia to Albuquerque, Alexis was able to establish a close connection with many of his professors.
"The professor with whom I had the most contact was Dr. Marios Pattichis, and I had the opportunity to see part of the projects he works on and part of the research team that works with him: kind, talented and exceptional people. By seeing his work, I am more encouraged to think about getting a Ph.D. soon.
"With Dr. Marios Pattichis, the final course was very challenging and exciting because we developed a project in which I had to use most of the NLP techniques that I know and research and create a model that uses very little data to optimize a text classifier algorithm. "
Now that Alexis has earned his degree he is grappling, like all of us, to get through the COVID crisis, but he is up for the challenge.
"The global health situation added challenges, such as taking care of my daughters in person, but I think that, like everyone else, we have had to adapt, create resilience, and discover skills that we did not know we had," Alexis said.