JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, TEXAS –
Eric Wineman completed both his undergraduate and master's degrees with no student loan debt and now works for the Air Force as an electronics engineer, courtesy of the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholarship for Service Program.
Part of the National Defense Education Program, SMART was established by the Defense Department to provide an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines critical to national security functions to receive a full scholarship and postgraduate employment.
"I had been working since I was 15 years old as a grocery stocker and dishwasher, saving all my money for college," Wineman said. "I was attending Texas A&M (University)-Kingsville and low on funds in my sophomore year. My dad said, 'Try and apply for this. It'll pay your way through college and give you a guaranteed job when you get out.' I said I'd look into it."
The program aims to increase the number of civilian scientists, engineers and mathematicians working throughout the DOD on some of the world's most interesting research projects and problems. In addition to working alongside others with innovative minds, SMART scholars also have access to many one of a kind, world-class facilities.
"Lots of people are getting ready to retire and we don't necessary have the workforce to replace their combined knowledge," Wineman said. "In SMART, they mentor us and pass down their expertise. SMART interns and graduates also bring a fresh look on things, particularly as more areas migrate to computerized design, 3-D printing and the digital age overall."
Participants in SMART receive many benefits, chief among them being full tuition and education-related fees and an annual stipend of $25,000 to $38,000, depending on prior educational experience.
Scholarship awardees are assigned to a DOD facility where they are expected to serve as a summer intern and complete a period of postgraduation employment service as a DOD civilian.
Alyssa Rahman is an Air Force SMART intern from Maumelle, Arkansas, currently in her senior year studying computer science with a security specialization at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
"I looked at government scholarships right out of high school, but I didn't want to commit at that time because I didn't know what I wanted to do," Rahman said. "My mom found this one searching online for different security-related scholarships. I applied, and now I'm here."
The employment obligation to the DOD civilian science and technology workforce upon graduation is a one-to-one commitment. Scholarship participants commit to one year of civilian employment with DOD for each academic year of scholarship award.
"The government is opening up a whole other opportunity after I finish my commitment," Rahman said. "One of the greatest advantages of SMART is the way they place the interns. I'm interacting with different teams and meeting a bunch of different people. I'm actually kind of overwhelmed with all of the options afforded to us."
"My only regret is not seeing the SMART program sooner," Wineman said. "It would have saved me a lot of time and effort that wasn't necessarily along my career path."
All awardees should be at least 18 years old as of Aug. 1, 2017, and a student in good standing with a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale at the time of award.
Active-duty military members who wish to apply for the SMART scholarship must be honorably separated or begin terminal leave on or before Aug. 1, 2017, to be eligible. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard members are eligible to apply, as are current government employees. The scholarship application deadline is Dec. 1.
Additional information and complete eligibility requirements are available on the SMART website.
For more information about Air Force personnel programs, go to the myPers website. Individuals who do not have a myPers account can request one by following instructions on the Air Force Retirees Services website.