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May 17, 2018

SMART scholar bound for aerospace career

Software engineering major is second Eagle to win elite Dept. of Defense scholarship

For the second consecutive year, an FGCU undergraduate has been awarded a prestigious U.S. Department of Defense scholarship intended to attract and groom some of the nation’s brightest future scientists.

Junior software engineering major Hannah Andrews has accepted the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service. She gets full tuition for the two-year balance of her FGCU undergraduate studies, along with a $25,000 annual stipend, a weekly salary of $1,000 during summer 2019 and 2020 internships at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, health insurance and a $1,000 annual allowance. In exchange, Andrews will spend at least the first two years after she graduates as a civil-servant government contractor, updating software programs for military planes that are up to 60 years old. If she elects to pursue a graduate degree, the SMART award — along with the other perks and her work commitment — is extended accordingly.

“I want to get a graduate degree in aerospace engineering, so I feel like a kid in a candy shop right now,” said Andrews, who was born in Wisconsin but moved to LaBelle with her family at age 5. “Getting this award brings a huge sense of pride. My grandpa calls it ‘Independence Day.’”

The maternal grandfather to whom Andrews refers is her role model, she says, having served 20 years with the Army in Vietnam and Kuwait before becoming sheriff in her home community near Eau Claire, Wis., for 28 years. “He was really loved by everyone, and I saw that every day, that sense of leadership … he was somebody I wanted to grow into,” Andrews said. “Being part of a military family, this opportunity is a perfect match. I can help the Armed Forces and serve by using my knowledge toward their mission.”

Andrews is following in the footsteps of another source of inspiration for her, FGCU senior software engineering major Chelsea Atkins, who in 2017 was the first high-achieving Eagle selected for the SMART scholarship. Together, their achievements contribute to the university’s academic profile, especially in science, technology, engineer and mathematics (STEM).

In one of several coincidences in this story, Atkins mentored Andrews in the Accelerated Collegiate Experienceprogram while Andrews was still attending LaBelle High School and the two remain close friends.

“We got along really well, and now we study together and hang out,” Andrews said. “She’s the one who got me interested in SMART.”

Andrews represents the definition of an engaged student, involved with the Software Engineering and Astrophysics clubs at FGCU, serving as chapter president of the National Society for Leadership and Success, and volunteering with several advisory boards. With a grade-point average around 3.5, she earned the SMART award by writing a series of essays and submitting letters of recommendation from FGCU administrators and faculty, one of whom was Derek Buzasi, the Whitaker Eminent Scholar in the Department of Chemistry and Physics, who also happens to be a commander as a reserve Navy engineering duty officer.

Andrews has been working with Buzasi on an FGCU research project that measures rotation periods on solar-like stars through data recorded by the Kepler spacecraft, and they will expand the project to include stars observed by NASA’s TESS mission, which launched in mid-April. “Kepler observed 200,000 stars, so we have lots of data to work with. Hannah is helping to write the software to analyze more than four years of data on all of those stars in a consistent way,” Buzasi said.

“Hannah is a talented software engineer, as you’d expect, but she’s much more than that,” Buzasi continued. “She’s smart, creative, enthusiastic and intellectually engaged. Astronomy was new to her when she started working with me, but she had the drive to find me, express her interest and learn the background necessary to be a valuable contributor to the project. And in our group meetings, even when things are busy and stress is high, she’s always the one who makes us laugh.”

Andrews will be part of an FGCU presentation of the project at the American Astronomical Society Conferencein Denver the first week of June. “Then I go straight from Denver for a two-day internship at Tinker in Oklahoma City,” she said.

Meanwhile, her SMART predecessor Atkins is interning this summer at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala. She expressed pride in her protégé-turned-rising-star.

“We immediately bonded over our shared interests in space science, and even after my role as her ACE mentor was complete, we remained great friends,” Atkins said. “Once she has a clear goal, she takes every opportunity she can in order to achieve it. As a previous mentor, I’m beyond proud. But as her friend, I’m thrilled to see her accomplishing her goals.”

As a slightly more experienced SMART intern, Atkins says one piece of advice she has for Andrews is to “not take everything so seriously. When you’re in a room surrounded by top-notch scientists and engineers, it’s east to feel inadequate, but difficult to remember that every idea is a valuable contribution when you’re trying to solve a problem. I’ve learned that when you don’t take yourself too seriously, it’s a lot easier to put that in perspective.”

Although Atkins was the one who sparked her interest in the SMART award, Andrews almost didn’t stay at FGCU long enough to earn it. “I was done with ACE, and I decided I wanted to move closer to Wisconsin (where besides her family, she also has a boyfriend who’s a military reservist). I was all set to transfer to Minnesota State University, Mankato this year,” she said.

In yet another coincidence, the Mankato campus was an early stop on the higher-education journey of FGCU President Mike Martin. Andrews didn’t know that until she gave a speech in front of him and he told her afterward.

“I thought it resembled FGCU, so I enrolled and went to orientation,” she said. “But my first day there, I knew I had made a mistake. It wasn’t the same as FGCU. I wasn’t going to get the same things there, the same connections. The relationships with the professors here have all been so great. Friends I know who have left here, they become a number (at other schools).

“People shouldn’t underestimate FGCU and the quality of work it produces. I’m a huge advocate. I’m very blessed to have this opportunity, and without FGCU and the connections I’ve made here, it wouldn’t be happening. I love it so much.”