International Student Finds Purpose at Embry-Riddle, Earns Place on Aviation Week’s 20 Twenties
Ecuadorian native Gabriela Gavilánez Gallardo packed as many of her possessions as she could cram into a single suitcase and boarded a plane bound for the United States. She was 20, scared but undeterred because she had a goal.
She was going to college.
That determination was recently rewarded when Gavilánez Gallardo was named one of only 20 students from across the globe to the prestigious Aviation Week Network’s 20 Twenties Class of 2024, distinguishing her as among the top aerospace-bound students in the world.
She completed her bachelor’s program in fall 2022, becoming the first in her family to become an engineer.
“For me, earning my B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, especially with summa cum laude honors, is more than an academic milestone; it symbolizes perseverance, resilience and adaptability,” said the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate. “It represents my dedication to personal growth and overcoming challenges.”
“My family views my graduation as a source of immense pride,” she added, noting that her academic journey isn’t finished. Next, she will continue at Embry-Riddle in pursuit of both her master’s and doctoral degrees.
Having come to the university by way of a partnership program with Universidad San Francisco de Quito — which offered her the opportunity to study Aerospace Engineering, a field not readily available in Ecuador — Gavilánez Gallardo didn’t know a single person on her arrival to the States. Everything was unfamiliar, even the food in the dining hall. It was “cultural shock.”
But soon came clarity.
“Discovering the Advanced Dynamics and Control Laboratory was a revelation,” she said. “Seeing how research could be applied in the real world was inspiring. It was there that I realized the magic of aerospace. As Deepak Chopra once said, ‘There are no accidents; there are only some purposes that we haven’t yet understood.’ For me, finding that lab felt like discovering my purpose.”
A Whole New World
Gavilánez Gallardo’s research at Embry-Riddle primarily focuses on artificial intelligence.
“I specialize in developing generative machine-learning models that increase the precision of vision systems for better position estimation and target identification,” she said. “However, over the last few months, I have been tackling the scarcity of high-resolution geomagnetic maps from aerial surveys by enhancing them synthetically, using generative adversarial neural networks.”
She works under the guidance of faculty member Dr. Hever Moncayo, Aerospace Engineering graduate program coordinator and co-director of the Advanced Dynamics and Control Lab, who also nominated her for inclusion in the 20 Twenties class.
“I nominated Gabriela for this award because of her exceptional dedication to academic excellence, leadership qualities and unconditional commitment to community service,” Moncayo said. “Her research efforts have the potential to make a profound impact across various engineering applications, including urban air mobility, aviation safety, space exploration and the operation of both crewed and uncrewed aerial systems.”
Gavilánez Gallardo’s focus on mapping includes enhancing the resolution of geomagnetic maps as well as mapping GPS-denied environments.She is also leveraging this approach to generate data to improve training for machine-learning models used in vehicle health monitoring.
“Since she joined my research group, she has demonstrated motivation and enthusiasm, and a remarkable combination of hard work, intellect, creativity and professionalism,” Moncayo added.
Outside of the lab, as an undergraduate, Gavilánez Gallardo was a member of the Discover Scholars Program, where she served as an international mentor. She is also a current member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers on campus.
“Since 2020, a total of eight Embry-Riddle Eagles, including Gabriela, have been chosen for inclusion in Aviation Week Network’s prestigious class,” said Dr. Brittany Y. Davis, director of the university’s Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships. “We are tremendously proud of Gabriela and all of our exceptional students and alumni who have earned this and many other distinctions.”
Gavilánez Gallardo will be formally inducted during a ceremony in March in the nation’s capital.
“I was very lucky that during my time at Embry-Riddle I have met marvelous people who now have become my second family,” Gavilánez Gallardo said. “These experiences serve as a reminder of the importance of perseverance, and every challenge boosts my determination to make meaningful contributions to the field.”