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John Broucek is one of over 3,000 students who have been awarded the scholarship. He will be going to Maryland every summer up until his graduation. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering

John Broucek's journey through Texas A&M University has taken him from beginning in aerospace engineering to switching to materials science and engineering.

His next step sees him securing future employment beyond College Station, Texas, through the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship.

He began at Texas A&M in 2018 and graduated in May 2022 with a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering. During his freshman year, he was connected to research in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering with Dr. Ibrahim Karaman through the Engineering Student Board.

Approaching graduation, opportunities that utilized his bachelor’s degree didn’t excite Broucek as much as his research had the last four years. As a result, he opted to continue at Texas A&M and pursue a Ph.D. with Karaman with an emphasis on functional materials, specifically high-temperature shape memory alloys. His primary research goals are oriented around metal synthesis and processing, techniques that often carry significant costs and have limitations for widespread adoption.

However, the integration of machine learning and the boom in artificial intelligence has opened the door to many innovations that could rapidly enable industrial integration and increase the rate of discovery in his research.

In March, Broucek was awarded the SMART Scholarship from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) through the U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division in Bethesda, Maryland.

The SMART Scholarship has awarded 3,820 scholarships since its inception in 2006, among 218 mission-critical sponsoring facilities that both retrain existing employees and recruit new researchers into the DOD. Unique to the SMART scholarship is its pay-for-work structure. The program funds students pursuing their most advanced degree and subsequently requires a service commitment based on the duration of each student’s degree.

The program boasts a 91% success rate for scholarship recipients’ completion of service commitment. Some of the benefits of the scholarship include a monthly stipend, an eight to 12-week summer research internship and other allowances like health insurance.

Upon degree completion, the most exciting benefit is employment placement at a DOD facility. The SMART program enables the DOD to invest in education and develop future leaders in science and technology.

"The advantage of this scholarship is that it allows you to explore many different things. It gives you a guaranteed job placement, which obviously — with the economy the way it is right now and what could happen in the next couple of years — is a pretty significant consideration," Broucek said.

While much of his research has been focused on aerospace applications, Broucek believes he can be an asset to the Navy during his annual internships and upon graduation. With the scholarship beginning in August 2023, he will visit Maryland in early June to familiarize himself with the administration and facilities. Although it is unclear what his day-to-day operations will be, he expects to get more familiar with and use the equipment within the DOD.

Broucek also mentioned that the program is well known for fostering employees to stay within the DOD beyond their service requirements because of the opportunities and diverse resources available to researchers.

"One thing that's been exciting for me is asking the question: How can I use my background in aerospace and materials science to complement each other and apply it to this slightly different field to make improvements in whatever way I can?" he said.