SMART Scholarship for Service

SMART Scholarship for Service

SMART supports students pursuing STEM degrees

May 17, 2018 - The Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program is an opportunity for students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in STEM disciplines to receive a full scholarship and be gainfully employed by the DoD upon degree completion. Following are profiles of two SMART Scholars. More information is available at

Agency: Department of the Navy: Space and Naval Warfare Center Atlantic (SSC Atlantic)
Name: Travis Axtell, Ph.D. Electrical Engineering, Naval Postgraduate School
Mission: Space Systems Engineering

Dr. Axtell currently serves as the Informatics Technical Director and Deputy for the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (AWCFT) in Washington, D.C. This team was created to accelerate the Department of Defense’s (DoD) integration of big data and machine learning, and its objective is to tum the enormous volume of data available to the DoD into actionable intelligence and insights at speed.

As an electrical engineer, Dr. Axtell’s passion lies in signal processing (using math in new ways to address challenging problems) and the study of light for military imaging systems. The SMART program allowed him to attend the Naval Postgraduate program to pursue his interest in Space Systems Engineering, learn valuable leadership skills, as well as interact and learn from top military leaders. Dr. Axtell has been a mentor for high school students in FIRST Robotics Competition for nine years.

Dr. Axtell currently oversees AWCFT’s Project Maven, an effort that creates computer vision / machine learning algorithms for video from unmanned aerial vehicles. The SMART program has given Dr. Axtell the opportunity to achieve extraordinary successes within his field of study that led to a National Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation by the Director of National Intelligence. His research has greatly benefitted the Navy and is used widely throughout the Department, and he was awarded the Naval Meritorious Civilian Service award by his commanding officer. Additionally, the SMART program has allowed Dr. Axtell to attend a top leadership school, giving him the opportunity to enhance his leadership skills and oversee projects which have given new warfighting capabilities to the military.

What is something you changed your mind about after participating in the SMART program?
“I learned how research teams work effectively from my graduate school research group and that the Department can solve any problem with effective team leaders and positive attitudes.”

What did you learn about the DoD while in the SMART program?
“I learned how to get the Military Services to pay attention to recent technology progress and motivate officers to demand rapid progress. Technical professionals achieve great successes when leadership demands excellence and challenge them. I learned to take risk. I am continuously learning new ways to educate senior leaders in a manner that they can understand and relate to, and how to build their excitement and trust.”


Agency: Department of the Navy: Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD)
Name: Karen Cooper, Ph.D. Instructional Technology, University of Central Florida
Mission: Cognitive, Neural, and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Cooper currently serves as a horizontal liaison for NAWCAD and is supporting several major programs within the Navy and with the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD)’s Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative. The SMART program enabled Dr. Cooper’s doctoral studies, where she developed her expertise in learning science, human behavior and technology-enabled learning. The work and research she had accomplished while in school via the SMART program helped inform senior-most leadership across the Navy about the future of learning science and technology (LS&T).

Dr. Cooper’s work allowed her serve on a strategic think-tank (The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Strategic Cell) for over five years, consulting and offering strategy to NAWCAD, the Navy and other Services on the future of learning and the most impactful ways to train our future sailors. Her current position as a horizontal liaison for NAWCAD LS&T efforts has given her the opportunity to provide the Department of the Navy and Department of Defense insight and vision into an emerging new field that will help them achieve their STEM-related mission and goals.

What is something you changed your mind about after participating in the SMART program?
“My belief that DoD’s commitment to really invest in their employees is very real. I never really doubted it, but the SMART program gave me first-hand belief about their level of commitment. Academically, I learned so much about LS&T. It is a very real, very important STEM discipline – one that most folks either don’t understand or don’t understand as requiring real skill. Since my time in SMART, a new field of study has emerged academically – Learning Engineering. That field of study gives testimony to the importance of this discipline, particularly because of the pervasive, ubiquitous nature of technology today.”

What did you learn about the DoD while in the SMART program?
“From a DoD / SMART perspective, I learned that the U.S. government is very serious about raising the level of STEM skills in their workforce. Offering an option to current employees not only continues to meet that goal but solves several obstacles the SMART program had with hiring new employees. It has changed my career and I hope I have been able to make a positive impact in DoD because of the SMART program.”