Budget Gets SMART

Call to arms. Officials hope the SMART scholarship program will supply new scientific talent to the Department of Defense.

While proposing cuts to a swath of educational programs, the President's 2006 budget delivers a shot in the arm to a fledgling scholarship initiative aimed at increasing the supply of scientific talent to the Department of Defense (DOD).

The Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) program was founded last year with the goal of attracting U.S. citizens into scientific careers within DOD–mainly to work on classified projects. The President is asking Congress to increase the program's funding from $2.5 million to $10.28 million, which would enable DOD to award up to 100 two-year scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students in defense-related areas ranging from aeronautical engineering to oceanography.

The scholarship includes tuition, funds to cover room and board, and a book allowance. But there are strings attached: Awardees will have to serve DOD as civilian employees for 2 years after graduation–or 6 years if they happen to be federal workers at the time of receiving the scholarship.

DOD officials say the initiative is a much-needed step toward meeting workforce shortages anticipated by the department in the near future. "Between 40 and 50 percent of the scientists and engineers currently employed with DOD will be eligible for retirement in the next 5 years," says William Berry, acting deputy undersecretary of Defense, Laboratories, and Basic Sciences. "We want to show that we are really serious" about grooming the next generation of scientifically trained citizens to work on national defense, he says.

The program is a welcome addition to efforts that aim to increase the number of U.S. citizens in the physical sciences, says Michael Corradini, a mechanical engineer who teaches at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and serves on the National Academy's Committee on Engineering Education. But he worries that the employment agreement might scare away some of the best candidates. "Students believe strongly in freedom, and typically don't respond well to such contracts," he says.

Related sites
Smart homepage
Department of Defense

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