Rising junior wins competitive Department of Defense SMART Scholarship

Illingsworth's site visit
Diana Illingsworth and the other 2015 SMART Scholars for the Space and Missile Systems Center at their site visit. From left: Ben Goodpaster, Diana Illingsworth, Chris Mitts and Tucker White.

Before her junior year even begins, aerospace and mechanical engineering major Diana Illingsworth already has a plan for how she will pay for the final two years of her college career, and it comes with a unique opportunity—a post-graduation job.

Thanks to a generous Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship from the Department of Defense, Illingsworth will have the final two years of her education paid for.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” she said of the scholarship’s benefits.

The scholarship is awarded to undergraduate and graduate students from universities across the country and provides them with the funding needed to finish their education. In return, the students agree to work for the Department of Defense for the amount of years they were awarded scholarships for; Illingsworth is committed for at least two years.

During that time, she will work for The Space and Missile System Center, a unit of the Los Angeles Air Force Base, and have her dream job of aerospace engineer.

During the application process, students can select up to three preferred bases where they would like to serve. The Space and Missile System Center was a top choice for Illingsworth because it created a perfect marriage of her interests—astronautics and the Air Force.

“I thought it sounded like a good fit, so I chose it and luckily they chose me, too,” said Illingsworth, who’d once wanted to join the Air Force. “I already have my dream job that I’ve always wanted.”

When Illingsworth was a child, her father, a chemistry professor, exposed her to science through frequent viewing of NOVA, a long-running PBS documentary series. She developed a special interest in the space-related episodes.

Then, after taking engineering classes in high school, she realized that she wanted to work on the engineering side of astronautics.

While working at the base, Illingsworth will have the opportunity to work on satellites or rockets and on projects with leading aerospace companies. Illingsworth is excited by the prospect of applying the skills she’s learned here at Case Western Reserve University to projects that will benefit people for years to come.

“The Department of Defense is doing things 10 to 20 years ahead of when the public learns the technology exists,” she said. “I’m really curious to see what they’re doing.”

Learn more about SMART Scholarships at smart.asee.org.