Engineering alumna served as Serbia's first telecommunications and information minister
For Aleksandra Smiljanic, the makings of a good life include rock concerts, travel, and the freedom to pursue independent research. An evening at the theater makes it even better.
On the research front, Smiljanic and her collaborators at the University of Belgrade, where she is a professor, have recently developed a prototype for a novel Internet router — a device that directs the transmission of information, such as email messages, from computer to computer.
“My research on the router design started as my Ph.D. thesis,” said Smiljanic, who completed her Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Princeton in 1999. “If I weren't at Princeton, I probably would not have tackled such an ambitious topic.”
Her dissertation focused on packet switching technology, which is used to divide information into smaller pieces that are transmitted independently over the Internet and put back together when they reach their target computer. After earning her doctorate, she continued to research packet switches as a researcher at AT&T Labs.
But in 2004, an opportunity to return to the University of Belgrade, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, presented itself, and she was happy to return to the university and the city where she was born.
Three years later, she was appointed the first Minister for Telecommunications and Information Society in the Serbian government. In this role, she was responsible for telecommunications, the informatization of Serbia and the nation’s postal services. The overarching goal was to modernize Serbian systems and make them compatible with the regulatory framework of the European Union.
While she found the challenges of academia and industry to be quite different – “Challenges in academia are mainly related to the issues in the area of research, and less to the people and their behaviors. In the ministry, it was vice versa,” she said – she credits her Princeton education with helping prepare her for the post.
“I met the highest quality graduate students from all around the world, which gave me a very global perspective and a very unique one,” she said. “This experience gave me a good part of courage to accept the ministerial position, and to execute it properly, I think.”
In 2008, she returned to her position at the University of Belgrade, and she also is a research professor at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Smiljanic loves to travel, but when she’s home, she takes advantages of the pleasures of Belgrade. This might include strolling along the banks of the Danube river, enjoying a restaurant meal accompanied by traditional Serbian music, or taking in the latest theater performance.
A regular visitor to McCarter Theatre during her time at Princeton, Smiljanic wishes more people could enjoy the performing arts of Serbia.
“In Belgrade, we have very good theaters,” she says. “I am always sad that only the people who speak Serbian can fully appreciate them.