Husker sets career path with Department of Defense scholarship

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Husker sets career path with Department of Defense scholarship

Austin Schilz, sophomore, SMART scholarship winner
Craig Chandler | University Communication
Austin Schilz is a sophomore who was awarded the SMART Scholarship from the Department of Defense. His computer programming passion is being combined with his career aspirations to work for the government.

Husker sophomore Austin Schilz already knows he’s going to have a job he loves working on F-16 fighter jets — or in any area of national security.

Schilz, a computer science and German major from Gering, earned a three-year scholarship from the Science, Mathematics And Research for Transformation Scholarship for Service Program, which guarantees career placement following graduation. The scholarship, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, is only awarded to about 10 percent of applicants and was started to increase the number of civilian scientists and engineers working with the DoD.

The scholarship pays all expenses to complete a degree along with paid summer internships with the Department of Defense each year of school.

Schilz said he’s beyond excited for the opportunity. He decided to apply for the scholarship after meeting an acquaintance of his aunt during a trip to Virginia. The man was eager to talk about his career with the federal government and Schilz was fascinated.

“How he described it was really appealing and interesting; he said it’s almost like a game or puzzle,” Schilz said. “And now I’m going to get a job I want and it’s really cool to work for the Department of Defense.”

During the summer, Schilz traveled to Hill Air Force Base in Utah to learn more about the internships he’ll complete in the next three years. He’ll spend eight to 12 weeks each summer working with other programmers on the continuous computer framework updates needed for the F-16s.

“And if I decide I want to do something else after I graduate, there are opportunities to move into a different area or a new place,” Schilz said.

Schilz said the scholarship has encouraged him to work even harder in school, although his freshman year experience was also crucial to forming this attitude, including one very tough calculus exam. It served as a valuable lesson.

“The first exam didn’t go so well, but I knew instantly what I needed to do,” Schilz said. “I had to study at least one hour a night to do well, making sure I knew the material. The homework wasn’t graded, but I needed to make the time to do it to make sure I understood it.

“I realized I had to work on time management and make school my first priority.”

Schilz is sharing these lessons with new students in Abel Hall, where he is serving as a resident assistant.

“I know from my own experience that first semester is a huge transition,” he said. “Knowing how to manage time well is important, but I also remind them to take breaks, have fun and make friends.”