The Department of Defense has traditionally relied upon technological domination to assure peace through deterrence. As the military workforce has decreased in size since WWII, our leaders have relied upon superior technology, rather than numbers, to dissuade our foreign enemies from aggression.
However, this long-held strategy is being challenged by the changing global landscape. While the United States was once the clear leader in scientific efforts, other countries are challenging their position. According to the National Math and Science Initiative, in 2008 China awarded 32% of all bachelor degrees in STEM fields. In comparison, the US only awarded 4% of the US bachelor degrees in STEM fields.
To address this crisis of technology investment, the United States has focused on growing its STEM workforce over the past decade. One of many such efforts is the DoD-centric Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship for Service Program. The SMART program is the premier scholarship for talented STEM professionals in the process of obtaining higher education. Additionally, the SMART program pays the full tuition of participants, alongside a $25,000-$43,000 stipends. It also provides recipients with summer internships and guaranteed employment post graduation.
Participants complete a service period with the DoD equal in length to their time spent in the program as a student. The program also encourages National Guard and Reserve Members to apply for the scholarship. If they are called into duty while participating in the program, the participant is granted a leave of absence.
Competition with Commercial Companies
While similar efforts to increase STEM investment exist across the US as a whole, SMART represents the DoD’s attempt to attract the brightest minds. The DoD competes with bigger commercial companies like Facebook and Google. These companies are able to offer higher salaries. However, the government is bound by law to pay on a certain schedule. This often loses their top employees to commercial offerings. By young, intelligent STEM students, the government hopes to hook them on the exciting technology problems that it has to offer.
Ultimately, the SMART program’s is to keep its employees as lifelong civilians in government service, long past their commitment has ended.