Diana Pineda

The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering encompasses a broad range of research and educational interests. It is the policy of the department to involve each faculty member in a balanced combination of research and teaching so as to fully benefit the students. A large number of our faculty has considerable industrial experience, and many maintain active consulting roles to provide current and relevant knowledge to the students in classroom and research settings.

For FIU College of Engineering and Computing Master of Science in Computer Engineering grad Diana Pineda, overcoming adversity hasn’t just made her stronger. It has helped her become a rising star in cybersecurity.

“I like puzzles and I like challenges. It’s just the way my brain works,” she says.

“I’m particularly interested in cybersecurity and networks because I’ve always liked investigation and forensics. I think it was meant to be.”

Pineda was 19 when she came to the U.S. from Venezuela with her parents and younger sister.

“My dad participated in the Green Card lottery for many years, pretty much since I was a baby,” she explains.

“The last couple of years we were in Venezuela the situation had gotten really bad. Originally, we were four people living in the same house, but then the number increased to seven. This forced us to reduce the amount of food we were getting, and we became desperate as things got tighter. Finally, in 2016, we received the good news that we were selected to obtain permanent residency.”

In Miami, Pineda’s primary goal was to find work to help support her family. She spoke almost no English, didn’t understand the ways of the U.S., and had no car, but fairly soon she found herself working three jobs at once, putting in shifts at McDonald’s, Pollo Tropical and Best Buy, and relying on her father to drive her to and from work.

Pineda wondered if coming to the U.S. was the right decision. After all, she’d quit college in Venezuela where she had a full scholarship and two years left. Now she didn’t know if she’d ever get back to school.

But thanks to guidance from co-workers and a Venezuelan woman whose house the family was living in, she learned that she could enroll in Miami Dade College. She kept working and graduated with her AA in computer engineering in 2019. She then became a Panther and completed her Bachelor of Science degree in computer engineering in 2021, graduating with a 3.97 GPA.

Since July of 2021, she has been an intern at Cirrus Core Networks, an international company that manages networks using cloud-based solutions. And in 2022, she began the master’s program at FIU, stepping into a research role for the first time.

“I was assigned a project related to 5G network security. I remember thinking I couldn’t do it, that I had no experience. I was stopped so many times during the project by lots of obstacles, but I knew I had to keep going,” she recalls.

Pineda credits three mentors of many ― Professors Alexander Perez-Pons, Kemal Akkaya and Selcuk Uluagac from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering ― with helping her push on.

“Combined, they are a great team. They have been very supportive and kept telling me to try new things. They made me realize that I could do a lot more than I thought I could.” Family and friends also helped along the way.

According to Associate Professor Pons, Pineda is the type of student who will find success in whatever she does because she is self-motivated.

“In any industry, at the end of the day you need to have the resilience to go in and look for ways to find solutions, and to have the diligence and mindset to keep looking for options,” he said. “Diana has those traits.”

Graduating with a 4.0 GPA, Pineda is entertaining several job options and even debating continuing on for a Ph.D.

“FIU has given me so many opportunities. In addition to research, I’ve been able to work with students at FIU, FIT and FAU and professors at other universities. I’ve also enjoyed helping with the middle school and high school teachers that we have contact with at the Gencyber Summer Teach Camp. I share with them the life philosophy I have developed, which is ‘Don’t give up. Keep going.’”