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Offered Two Top DoD Awards, Snellings Makes SMART Decision

Not every student gets a chance to turn down a government fellowship with a seven percent acceptance rate.

William Snellings, a second-year PhD student at the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI), made that extraordinary decision when his applications to two student grants from the US Department of Defense (DoD) were both approved.

“I am honored and grateful to have been chosen for both of these awards, but since they are both from the same source, I could only accept one,” Snellings said.

The National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship and the Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship offer many of the same benefits, including full tuition and an annual stipend for up to five years. However, SMART also offers a major advantage after graduation: a guaranteed full-time civilian position with the DoD.

“I have accepted the SMART scholarship, which will be sponsored by the Missile and Space Intelligence Center (MSIC) in Huntsville, Alabama,” said Snellings. The MSIC was his top choice out of more than 200 DoD facilities open to SMART scholars across the country.

My passion is to further the nation’s technological breakthroughs and advancements in hypersonics,” Snellings said, referring to vehicles that travel at more than five times the speed of sound. “MSIC performs threat analysis of foreign objects from other countries, so my work aligns with their goals. Supporting their mission would be a very fulfilling career.”

William Snellings presenting a paper

Snellings is pursuing a PhD in aerospace engineering in Associate Professor Ragini Acharya’s Intelligent Research Enabling Advancements in Computational Hypersonics (I-REACH) group. Snellings’ research is focused on developing and testing computer programs that model the way air moves around and through aircraft at hypersonic speeds.

“I’ve always been interested in anything that flies,” Snellings said, “and our group does a lot of forward-thinking work that is critically needed for advancements in hypersonic technology.”

“I am very proud of William,” said Acharya. “He has contributed to multiple research projects and has been a great supporter of other students in our group. He deserves this recognition.”

Snellings is Acharya’s second doctoral student to be awarded the SMART Scholarship; PhD Candidate Michael Stokes received his award last year.

The SMART Scholarship is part of the DoD’s efforts to educate and retain a diverse and innovative talent pool to support national security. With almost 150,000 STEM civilian employees, the DoD is the nation’s largest employer of federal scientists and engineers.