Partnership Program Offers Path From France to America

Maureen Rakotondraibe joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology through a partnership with École Spéciale de Mécanique et d’Electricité, a university in France where she was pursuing a master’s in embedded systems.

“I chose Illinois Tech because I could choose complementary courses and go deeper in some topics, such as artificial intelligence and embedded computing, which was not a focus in my initial courses in France. I also really liked that projects were a strong focus at Illinois Tech,” she says. “I grew up in Madagascar where such opportunities and education paths are rare, so I am really grateful for my education and this partnership program.”

Two of the projects Rakotondraibe worked on while at Illinois Tech were published and presented during the 2023 IEEE International Conference on Electro/Information Technology.

One was a smart bike helmet which—over multiple semesters—she developed to include a range of safety features, including notifying the bike rider of out-of-sight threats using an AI-powered object detection algorithm.

“It was a great practical project because it allowed me to design a full system. We combined knowledge in terms of hardware (sensors, actuators, and microcontrollers), wireless technology (Bluetooth and WiFi), and cloud visualization,” she says.

Rakotondraibe also worked on a drowning recognition algorithm for ocean surveillance, which uses computer vision to detect and locate people in the water in order to help lifeguards and increase the drowning survival rate.

“Both projects were really valuable since they allowed me to identify and solve a problem statement by applying what I have been learning during my different courses. They allowed me to combine multiple technologies and create a practical bridge between the different topics,” says Rakotondraibe. “One of the best tools of an engineer is the problem-solving mindset and critical thinking. I felt that working on it was greatly encouraged across all the courses. In my job, I am using it daily to support customers and applications and push innovative solutions.” 

When it came time to apply for jobs, Rakotondraibe says Illinois Tech’s Career Services helped her understand how to format her application materials for the American job market—which has different requirements than she was used to in France—and she was able to find a job before graduating.  

Now working as a field application engineer at Sensirion, a leading sensor manufacturer that specializes in environmental sensors, Rakotondraibe supports customers and projects that are integrating Sensirion sensors into a range of different systems, with applications including medical, industrial, automotive, and consumer electronics.

“What I like the most is the diversity of topics I am working on such as hardware, software, or mechanical integration of the sensors. I am also working on innovative projects such as case studies to find new applications and use cases,” she says. “Embedded systems are exciting because we combine hardware, software, and technologies to build a physical solution that can solve an issue or improve a situation. There is a lot of room for innovation. I also really like that it is a field that will never stop evolving.”

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