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Engineering Students Awarded Department of Defense ‘SMART’ Scholarships

Scholars to Gain Technical Skills, Guaranteed Future Civilian Careers
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Mechanical engineering majors Justin Diamond and Serop Kelkelian have two more years before they graduate. But the undergraduates already have jobs lined up with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Both Diamond and Kelkelian have been awarded the Department of Defense Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship. 

This unique opportunity offers students hands-on experience to gain technical skills in critical STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields that support the national security mission of the Department of Defense. 

This highly selective award provides SMART scholars with full tuition for up to five years, summer internships, a stipend ($25,000-$38,000 per year depending on degree level) and full-time employment with the Department of Defense after graduation.

For every year of degree funding, the scholar commits to working for a year with the Department of Defense as a civilian employee. In 2020, about 300 scholarship recipients were selected nationwide, with only 13% of applicants receiving the award.

“This scholarship provides an excellent opportunity to work as an engineer,” Diamond said. “It has always been my goal to work in the defense industry due the constant innovation and new technologies being developed. To me, receiving this scholarship is a dream come true.”

Kelkelian agreed that the scholarship is a life-changing opportunity.

“Becoming a SMART scholar gives me stability through my years in college,” he said. “I chose to work for the Department of Defense after graduation because I love working on cutting-edge technology that will help our soldiers protect America and its interests.”

The students’ faculty mentor, John Sanders, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, wrote letters of recommendation for their scholarship applications. Last year under his sponsorship, both students participated in the University Physics Competition. For the international contest, undergraduate students work in teams to solve a real-world problem using the principles of physics and then write a formal paper describing their work.   

“Serop and Justin are both incredibly brilliant, talented, creative, disciplined and hard-working. When I heard that they had both received the SMART Scholarship, I was absolutely thrilled,” Sanders said. “I know that they will continue to excel and do extraordinary things.”

Beginning in the summer of 2022, the students will intern at Department of Defense laboratories to prepare for the civilian workforce.

Diamond will intern at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and will be assigned to work there after graduation. Kelkelian will intern, and later work, at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Port Hueneme, located in Ventura County.

“The Department of Defense provides an excellent opportunity to work alongside some of the United States of America’s brightest scientists and engineers. I hope to learn all I can from those individuals,” Diamond added.

Diamond, who is studying robotics and computer science, credits his involvement as a cadet in CSUF’s Army ROTC Titan Battalion for helping to prepare him for his future career. 

“The Titan Battalion has been a family to me for the past two years,” he said. “I am certain that I wouldn’t have been able to obtain this scholarship without the lessons on work ethic and determination that I learned from all of my friends in the Titan Battalion.”

Kelkelian, a member of the college’s formula-style race car team, is studying aerial robotics and hopes to make a lasting impact in the field.

“In the future, I want to become a project lead with the Department of Defense and work on the next unmanned aerial vehicle,” he said. “Aerial robotics is a rapidly growing industry, which plays an integral role for the U.S. military in surveillance, reconnaissance, force protection and warfare.”

For Kelkelian, he’ll be following in his father’s footsteps working for the Department of Defense. His father, an electrical engineer, has worked for the government agency for 15 years and brought his son to work on family days, which inspired him.

“Getting a glimpse of the projects my dad worked on gave me exposure to what life as a professional electrical engineer looks like in the service of his country,” he said. “The most important thing that stood out is how impactful his contribution is toward saving the lives of American servicemen and servicewomen.” 

For more information about the SMART scholarship or to learn how students can apply, visit the program’s website. The application is open annually from August through December. 

Debra Cano Ramos