5 Questions with Faculty: Mariya Zheleva

Mariya Zheleva's work in next-generation wireless networks takes her to remote locations all over the world. Here she is one top of a water tower during a field trip to Macha, Zambia, configuring a base station for a cellular network. (Photo courtesy of Mariya Zheleva)

ALBANY, N. Y. (Oct. 25, 2017) — Mariya Zheleva first came to UAlbany in 2014 as a visiting assistant professor at the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. She became an assistant professor in the College’s Computer Science Department in the early 2016.

“I am excited to be a part of such energetic and diverse community and have truly enjoyed my work with the undergraduate and graduate students in the department,” she said.

What are you working on now?

My research is on next-generation wireless networks. I like studying existing large-scale wireless network deployments in various environments, from urban to rural, and from rural Africa to agricultural U.S. and refugee camps. These studies allow me to pinpoint shortcomings in off-the-shelf technologies and figure out ways to improve them or fundamentally change them.

For example, one key limitation of today’s wireless networks is the predefined, small amount of radio spectrum they use. We are designing technologies that will allow future wireless devices to scavenge for and use any available spectrum. This is not easy, because current wireless devices by design operate on fixed frequencies and all the protocols and applications assume such operation. Next-generation scavengers will not only have to be fast and robust in picking frequencies but will also need to be cautious not to disrupt the operation of user applications.

While I love fiddling with research prototypes in the lab, what truly energizes me in my research is the opportunity to go out and study real networks and to deploy some of the new technologies we develop in real-world environments. This line of my research has brought me to rural Zambia, where we have deployed software-defined cellular networks and to agricultural U.S., where we are deploying networks with dynamic spectrum access.

What made you decide to pursue your field?

I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering with concentration in wireless networks. Then I worked in a large internet service provider and a national mobile operator. I liked finding ways to automate or improve different aspects of the networks we managed. At one point, I realized I want to make a difference in the future of these technologies, in a way that will allow people to have equal Internet access, despite their income or geographical location. This brought me to the decision to pursue my PhD and later pursue an academic career. It’s been a great journey so far.

If you weren’t teaching at a university, what would you be doing?

I would probably be running an NGO to bring wireless connectivity and applications in infrastructure-challenged environments such as rural Africa, refugee camps and agricultural lands.

Dinner tonight with anyone, living or not: Who, and why?

Living for extended periods of time in different places around the world has resulted in us having many dear friends all over the place. If there was a chance for all these amazing people to come together for a night, this will be the best dinner I could ever wish for.

What’s one thing students might be surprised to know about you?

I love adventuring in nature: from diving in airplane wrecks to long backpacking trips and spelunking. One of my favorite backpacking adventures was hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, which we ascended in five days and descended in one (followed by a day for leg recovery in a coffee-shop in Moshi).

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