Michael Falanga on Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach Campus. (Photo: Embry-Riddle / Bill Fredette-Huffman) Michael Falanga on Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach Campus. (Photo: Embry-Riddle / Bill Fredette-Huffman)
Michael Falanga on Embry‑Riddle's Daytona Beach Campus. (Photo: Embry‑Riddle / Bill Fredette-Huffman)

From Student to Scholar
Exploring Human Factors in Depth at Embry‑Riddle

Story by Makenna Pringle
Makenna Pringle

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Michael Falanga just graduated from Embry‑Riddle with his B.S. in Human Factors Psychology. Now, he’s moving on to pursue his Ph.D. in the same field.

Michael Falanga (’23) originally came to Embry‑Riddle to study Mechanical Engineering on the biomedical track, drawn to the university because of its niche focus on STEM fields and the ability to attend classes with concentrated numbers of students.

“A big [deciding factor] was the community- the really big focus on science and technology.... everyone was kind and welcoming and I didn't feel like I got lost amongst everyone, which was nice,” he shared.

As his coursework in mechanical engineering began, Falanga realized that he wanted to end up in a role that was more directly tied to humans, and he would need to make a major change. The Human Factors Psychology program stood out to him, aligning nicely with his goals.

“Human Factors has more of that human approach with a focus on psychological processes and design. That's more or less why I wanted to make the change,” he said. “It just seemed a better fit for me, and I still got to work on all the simulators and car design and aircraft design, but I was able to really focus on the people side of things.”

Urban Air Mobility Research at Embry‑Riddle

During his undergraduate time at Embry‑Riddle, Falanga was involved in completing research on Urban Air Mobility for electric air vehicle company Supernal Aero.

Supernal is currently in the process of developing Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing Vehicles, or eVTOLs. eVTOLs are designed to be quieter and more dexterous than standard aircraft, with the intention of one day being used in urban areas as a form of transportation like any other. For now, the main purpose of most eVTOLs is transporting cargo.

“[Supernal] reached out to the school to do some research with vehicle control systems and I was tasked with doing a lot of data analysis with pilot controls,” Falanga shared of his research. “I was also able to fly a full motion simulator around for five hours- just to have some fun with it and really get the most hands-on experience possible.”

eVTOLs have the potential to revolutionize urban transportation for a variety of reasons. They use rechargeable batteries, therefore producing zero carbon emissions, can reduce traffic congestion and have generally lower maintenance costs than most standard aircraft.

“I definitely see the usefulness of it. The goal is to be used for general public transportation, to just get around cities quicker. It'll also be a cleaner form of transportation, which will be amazing as well,” said Falanga. “I think with introducing any new technology, society takes it a little bit slow. But once we get used to it and see that there is a common use for it and realize it's actually a really cool piece of technology, it will become just a normal aspect of life.”

Life at Embry Riddle

Falanga’s involvement on the Embry‑Riddle campus does not end with his participation in research projects. He also is an Academic Change and Exploration Coach for students who wish to change their major, helping ease their transition and working alongside faculty and staff.

“I always tell them to take a step back to consider what they personally want to accomplish in their life and what would make them happiest... What do you see yourself doing? What would make you happy? And that's probably the best route that you should take,” he shared the same advice he gives his peers in moments of uncertainty. “Maybe it may not have the most lucrative job prospects, maybe you won't make the most money, but as long as you're happy in what you do for your career, I think you'll be happy in life.”

In his free time, Falanga is a race-car enthusiast who enjoys attending races at the Daytona Speedway, conveniently located right next door to Embry‑Riddle. He also loves to snorkel and scuba dive, another convenient hobby to have when attending college in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Inspiration and Motivation

When the time came for Falanga to complete his undergraduate studies, he was encouraged by his professors to apply for the Ph.D. in Human Factors at Embry‑Riddle. After working closely with his professors throughout his research experience and coursework, Falanga decided to take their advice.

“They suggested that I apply. And having their support to back it up and to give me that opportunity really was the biggest reason why I took the chance,” he said. “It’s never guaranteed; it's not an easy process, but having their support and working closely with them was definitely the inspiration behind seeing what I can do with a PhD.”

As he works to complete his Ph.D. and takes part in more research at Embry‑Riddle, Falanga keeps his inspiration for success in mind.

“The people that inspire me are my family members; my mother, my brothers. And since coming here, I'd add my professors to that. They honestly have been a huge inspiration- seeing what they can do. They've honestly become family members to me,” he remarked.

Falanga’s end goal? To return to Embry‑Riddle as a professor and inspire others in the way his professors have inspired him.

“My time here has been the most influential in my life to date. I know I'm going to have other experiences that are going to alter my life substantially, but in my young life, this would've been the most substantial. Picking Embry‑Riddle has probably been the best decision I've ever made.”

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