Growing up in Peru, Gissella Bejarano first heard of Binghamton University when the Fulbright Program accepted her into its prestigious ranks and offered to help fund her master’s degree in computer science.
Bejarano sent an application to Binghamton based on its graduate school ranking and a recommendation from her Fulbright advisor, and when the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science accepted her, she traded anticuchos for spiedies and a near-equatorial climate for upstate New York’s four seasons.
She liked Binghamton enough to stay for her PhD, which the University will award her this spring, and she already has several possible paths for what’s ahead.
Her success is undeniable, but she remains humble about her experiences: “I feel very, very grateful for the opportunities that the Fulbright program gave me. I’m sure other people as smart or maybe smarter than me are not having those chances.”
Bejarano knew in high school that she wanted to pursue an engineering or computer science career, and she briefly considered electronics engineering while she was an undergraduate at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in Lima. The concepts didn’t quite click, though, and she gravitated to informatics for her bachelor’s degree.
“I had ideas about how artificial intelligence could add productivity to some processes and to imitate what we do as humans,” she said. “Although I had that passion, I decided to go for something that was more in demand in industry, which was data management and data analysis.
“After a couple of short-term jobs, I worked for three years for the Banco de Crédito del Perú [Credit Bank of Peru]. I had the opportunity to learn more about analysis, managing information, data storage, data mining and data engineering. I wanted to go deeper and know more.”
When those inquisitive impulses were squashed too many times, she decided to leave industry and go back to college for her master’s.
“It was one of the riskiest decisions I took, because I quit without having a salary,” Bejarano said. “But I had a plan — I could live on my savings for one year and apply to Fulbright or other scholarships. If I didn’t make it, I would return to industry.”
The Fulbright Program did accept her, though, and she used the opportunity to further explore deep learning and artificial intelligence. Her master’s thesis explored new ways to analyze sequential data with a time dimension.
For her PhD thesis, Bejarano worked with Assistant Professor Arti Ramesh as her advisor, and her research posited how machine learning could be applied to smart cities, particularly water and energy consumption as well as predicting the resolution times of emergency events.
“Gissella is very diligent and has great perseverance, qualities that are most essential for research and have helped her succeed in her PhD,” Ramesh said. “I am really proud of her achievements and know that she will go on to achieve greater heights with her passion and compassion.”
Bejarano added: “I’m very grateful for all of her guidance. I felt that both of us gave our best work when we engaged in interesting discussions that developed into my thesis.”
Even though she won’t officially get her degree until this month, Bejarano already has started her post-Binghamton life as an assistant professor at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, where she’s teaching a couple of courses this spring. It’s part of her plan to boost Peru’s academic standing in STEM fields on the world stage.
“In 2014, Peru had among the least number of research publications in South America, and little has improved since then,” she said. “We are one of the best in culinary arts and we are advancing in soccer, but research would make a difference in our quality of life and technology.”
Before returning to Lima, though, Bejarano will spend a year to 18 months doing post-doctoral research at Baylor University in Waco, Texas — an opportunity fully supported by Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia.
In addition to giving Peru a technology boost, Bejarano also will offer a hand up to women in the computer science field, which is predominantly populated by men.
“If I have this privilege, I also feel that I have a duty to support other women and open doors to create opportunities,” she said.