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    SMART Scholar and Mentor of the Year Awards Announced for Fiscal Year 2023 in Recognition of Their Remarkable Contributions to the Department of Defense

    SMART Scholar and Mentor of the Year Awards Announced for Fiscal Year 2023 in Recognition of Their Remarkable Contributions to the Department of Defense

    Courtesy Photo | SMART Scholar and Mentor of the Year Award winners for FY 2023 included Nathan Jones...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

    SMART Scholarship Program

    Scholars and mentors from the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship-for-Service Program, earned the Scholar and Mentor of the Year Awards for their impactful research in enhancing Department of Defense (DoD) capabilities.

    Each year, the DoD SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program awards scholar and mentor pairs who demonstrate exemplary achievements throughout their SMART-sponsored journey, from academia to civil service career. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, the number of nominations received doubled and were representative of SMART Sponsoring Facilities across the entire DoD.

    SMART Scholar and Mentor of the Year Award winners for FY 2023 included Nathan Jones and Rachel Kinard, Ph.D., Air Force Research Lab (AFRL); Juliet Swinea and Pete Stynoski, Ph.D., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Engineer Research Development Center (ERDC); Demetrius Hernandez and Danielle Shanks, U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) White Sands Missile Range (WSMR); Nathaniel Ferlic, Ph.D. and Linda Mullen, Ph.D., Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Divisions (NAWCAD); and Carlos Torres Jr., Ph.D. and James Adleman, Ph.D., Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific.

    The awards are given to scholar and mentor pairs during the pursuit of their SMART-sponsored degree (Phase 1), their DoD civilian employment commitment (Phase 2), or as a seasoned DoD science and technology professional post-service commitment (Phase 3). The awards acknowledge exceptional scholar achievements and the invaluable guidance offered by their DoD mentor at a SMART Sponsoring Facility.

    This year’s scholar and mentor pairs were recognized for their research in topological data analysis (TDA), ballistic performance of building materials, counter-drone systems, optical sensors for monitoring underwater environments and detecting subsea threats, and 2D and quantum materials, as well as their contributions to develop the future DoD civilian STEM workforce. The teams have built groundbreaking portfolios and continue to mentor future DoD scientists and engineers through their efforts.

    Phase 1 awardee for a bachelor’s/master’s degree, Nathan Jones worked with his mentor Rachel Kinard, Ph.D., also a SMART scholar, at the AFRL on three projects that resulted in massive improvements to TDA research and code that is now available for all members of the DoD. The three projects, which span the three major areas of U.S. Air Force research goals, included Meshes with Algebraic Topology: TDA Evaluation and Refinement, Topological and Algebraic Data Analysis (TADA), and Sheaves for Sensor Exploitation. Significantly, these efforts created cross directorate and cross branch collaboration among DoD research labs.

    Phase 1 awardee for a doctorate degree, Juliet Swinea, is a third-year Ph.D. student in Civil Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Swinea works with her mentor Pete Stynoski, Ph.D., at the USACE ERDC, researching ballistic performance of cross-laminated timber (CLT), a sustainable building material with exceptional potential in modular temporary housing applications relevant to military operations and disaster response. As a Phase 3 SMART scholar himself, Stynoski leveraged his experience as a SMART mentee to foresee training and opportunities that would develop Swinea as a researcher and leader. “Since the beginning of our relationship, I have felt like a valued teammate working alongside Dr. Stynoski, rather than for him, and my accomplishments thus far would not have been possible without his unwavering support and confidence in me,” said Swinea. “I have been put in the right rooms at the right times, and have been encouraged to present, take initiative, and engage with industry, academic, and government partners on behalf of the DoD.”

    Phase 2 awardee for a bachelor’s/master’s degree, Demetrius Hernandez, works with his mentor and lead of the counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) team, Danielle Shanks, at WSMR to improve counter-drone testing efficiency. Hernandez is also a recipient of the SMART Creative Research & Engineering Advancing Technical Equity in STEM Grant, which assisted the advancement of the C-UAS team’s capabilities in counter-drone testing and played a crucial role in reinforcing national defense strategies. Moreover, Hernandez dedicates much of his time to mentor emerging defense scientists and engineers.

    Phase 2 awardee for a doctorate degree, Nathaniel Ferlic, Ph.D., is an electronics engineer at NAWCAD, and conducts research on optical propagation in adverse water conditions with his mentor, Linda Mullen, Ph.D. Mullen is an internationally recognized subject matter expert in optical propagation in degraded visual environments. Mullen, who began the work with the Non-Traditional Maritime Sensing Branch at NAWCAD, was unable to dedicate resources to this new research area and recognized the SMART Scholarship as an opportunity to engage a talented graduate student to continue the effort. Ferlic also received the SMART SEED Grant within his first year of DoD civil service to continue exploring optical vortex interactions with the undersea environment. Passionate about educating and mentoring the future workforce, Ferlic is actively pursuing ways for early career DoD civilians and future interns to get involved with cutting-edge Navy research.

    Phase 3 awardee for a doctorate degree, Carlos Torres Jr., Ph.D., is a researcher and electronics engineer in the Advanced Photonic Technologies Branch at NIWC Pacific. James Adleman, Ph.D., has mentored Torres through all three phases of the SMART Program. Torres is a subject matter expert in 2D and quantum materials and serves as the integrated product team lead of a diverse 2D and quantum materials research portfolio with Adleman as a team member and consultant. Additionally, Torres spearheaded the establishment of a state-of-the-art laboratory known as the Quantum-Engineered Nano Devices Laboratory, aimed at creating the necessary in-house capabilities for fundamental studies and test and evaluation of novel devices in quantum and nanotechnology. Bringing the SMART Program full circle, Torres also mentors a SMART scholar summer intern and continues guiding the next generation of STEM students.

    The scholar and mentor pairs will be invited to present their recognized achievements during a publicly accessible webinar. This is an opportunity for members of the public, DoD ecosystem, as well as current SMART scholars and future SMART applicants to learn about the pairs’ recognized work and engage in a Q&A session. Advanced registration is required. Learn more via the SMART website and social media.

    As a recipient of the SMART scholarship, scholars in all phases of the program, have access to an incredible ongoing network of industry, academic, and government partners. This network propels SMART scholars’ careers and is at the heart of what the SMART Scholarship is all about: nurturing talent, fostering collaboration, and cultivating future leaders in critical STEM fields.

    SMART is a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) focused scholarship-for-service program and is one of the largest education and workforce initiatives under DoD STEM – the Department’s comprehensive K-20 STEM education and talent development effort. SMART sponsors undergraduate and graduate students in 24 academic disciplines critical to national security and the DoD’s future by providing full tuition, a generous stipend, summer internships, and guaranteed employment at a DoD laboratory or agency. In return, scholars commit to a one-for-one employment commitment at a DoD Sponsoring Facility after obtaining their degree. Since inception in 2006, the program has awarded more than 4,200 scholarships.

    To learn more about the SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program and the participating DoD Sponsoring Facilities, visit

    To learn more about the Department’s comprehensive K-20 STEM education and talent development effort, visit



    Date Taken: 04.04.2024
    Date Posted: 04.04.2024 11:21
    Story ID: 467770

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