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Spirit of Innovation: Dr. Haifa Maamar

Haifa Maamar headshot
Photography by Julie Fletcher

Dr. Haifa Maamar

Emerging Technologies Education Director

Full Sail University

“I want young women to see that I am here, I am working in the field, and that they can do it, too. This is not only for boys. You can understand it, you can do it, you can master it — and don’t let anyone tell you anything different.” — Dr. Haifa Maamar

Dr. Haifa Maamar has been making waves in the tech world for years, even before coming on the scene in the Orlando area. Now, as the education director of emerging technologies at Full Sail University, she uses her expertise from years of research and experience to help Full Sail students and graduates become leaders in the emerging technologies industry and to push Central Florida to new realms of possibility.

Growing up in Tunisia, Maamar cultivated her fascination with technology in all its forms.

“I attended a STEM-focused middle and high school that both only accepted the best students of the country — and we were all very competitive. We all wanted to become doctors or engineers,” she says. “My strengths were really math, science and programming in general. At the time, I was determined to be a neurosurgeon.”

Combining Medicine and Technology

It wasn’t until after moving to Canada to focus on her degree at the University of Ottawa that she switched gears, realizing she could still pursue her passion for neuroscience while exploring the wider field of computer science. “For my master’s degree,” Maamar recalls, “I worked on a distributed collaborative virtual simulation of a brain tumor telesurgery class of applications.”

In her quest to earn each of her degrees — including a bachelor’s in computer engineering, a master’s in electrical engineering and a doctorate in computer and electrical engineering — Maamar found ways to advance and apply her skills in everything from virtual and augmented reality to creating a Roomba-like robot. She even worked on a project for National Defense Canada to create training systems for first responders using 3D streaming and wireless multimedia.

Maamar went on to a role as the solution architect at the Montreal Stock Exchange, where she built software solutions fused in several trading systems including Montreal, Toronto, New York, Boston, Milan and Paris stock exchanges. But something was missing.

“I had this feeling that I needed to teach,” she says. “That was my passion.”

Ready for a redirect, she went looking for education opportunities nearby. “One of the most popular applications of my Ph.D. is multiplayer games, but I didn’t even know there was such a thing as gaming programs,” she laughs.

Finding Full Sail

Intrigued, she applied to Full Sail University and was quickly accepted for the mobile gaming master’s program. She soon began teaching the game development and computer science bachelor’s programs as well, getting a crash course in exactly what Full Sail does. Today at Full Sail, she oversees all technology and gaming programs, including some at the master’s level.

On top of meeting with advisory boards to ensure up-to-date programming for their students and a thorough understanding of real-world applications, Maamar spends her time on the many initiatives started at Full Sail under her watch. Among the many projects are the Full Sail University CECO Interactive Ladder, designed in partnership with the Conductive Education Center of Orlando to help children with motor function disabilities; a NASA Launch Services Program for educational games; and “Starvent Ventilator,” a bag device for a medical ventilator.

In Maamar’s time at the university, Full Sail has been recognized for its exceptional work in emerging technologies. Full Sail has been named one of the “Top 50 Best Undergraduate Game Design Programs” and “Top 25 Best Graduate Game Design Programs” by The Princeton Review and recognized by Florida Trend for its degree programs in cybersecurity with an AI concentration.

Focus on Innovation

Innovation, to Maamar, is in more than just the technology itself. It’s what can happen when everyone has access to opportunities and tools.

In her work through various boards and organizations, Maamar has advocated for the power of diversity. Her work to establish the Cacti Council as a 501c3 nonprofit, for instance, where she helps create teaching materials and curricula to be used as in-school and after-school programs about the fundamentals of computer science, has been especially important for her in reducing the gender gap in STEM fields.

In all of her projects, Maamar upholds her vision for Full Sail and the future: “When people think about technology, I want them to think about Full Sail. I want them to think about the exciting projects our students are working on, and our amazing curriculum.

“I want our students to work on real-world projects, to do the research, get the patents and learn from our faculty,” she says. “That’s how we make sure we are supplying Orlando’s tech hub with highly qualified, employable graduates.

“I want to make sure companies are attracted to Orlando because of our shared passion and the potential for innovation.”

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i4 Business

i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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