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A SMART path to the future – Honors student Rachel McAfee wins prestigious Department of Defense scholarship

Honors mechanical engineering student Rachel McAfee was recently awarded the Department of Defense SMART scholarship — a recognition that provides funding for two to five years of education at any level (undergraduate through Ph.D.), including full tuition and a living stipend. The award also gives Rachel the opportunity to participate in additional internships with the Department of Defense – and a full-time job after she finishes her education.

Rachel’s journey to this scholarship began when her research advisor, College of Engineering professor Dr. Joshua Gess, told her about an internship opportunity with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Maryland.

Rachel was thrilled when she received the internship and was able to work at the center in the summer of 2019. She worked in electronics packaging and thermal management of military electronics – specifically, on managing the heat output of directed energy weapons with phase change materials.

Rachel says, “I felt that I had really found my place; this was the first internship where I felt like I belonged with the team and that the work was something I would like to do for the rest of my life.”

One of her supervisors at the internship informed her about the Department of Defense SMART scholarship. Rachel decided to apply, ultimately earning the award.

“This scholarship has enabled me to not worry about any tuition, living expenses, textbooks or insurance for the rest of my academic career. I can focus on academics and research without being concerned about bills or rent while I finish my education, which has really taken a weight off my shoulders,” Rachel says. “This scholarship also sets up more internships for the coming summers with that same group, and I already know where my future career will be.”

Rachel plans to graduate next year and move onto earning her master’s degree in mechanical engineering with a focus on thermal-fluid sciences, also at Oregon State. After that, she would like to earn a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering; she has yet to decide on a particular university or program.

As advice for fellow students, Rachel says, “I had never heard of this scholarship before my internship…. Don’t be nervous to ask your manager or supervisor about opportunities in a group or company if you really love it; it may open up opportunities for scholarships or future employment. Applying is a long and hard process, especially for any significant scholarship opportunities, and don’t let this scare you off!”

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