MIE Student Wins Prestigious DoD SMART Scholarship

Paolo Kefallinos

Although Paola Kefallinos, E’23, ME’24, mechanical engineering, just entered her third year at Northeastern, she already has clear visibility to her career. Kefallinos recently achieved the prestigious SMART (Science Mathematics and Research for Transformation) scholarship from the United States Department of Defense (DoD).

In addition to full tuition for up to five years, the SMART scholarship offers recipients a stipend, summer internships, and full-time employment after graduation at one of the nation’s 200 most innovative laboratories across the Army, Navy, Air Force, and larger DoD. During summer internships, SMART Scholars work directly with an experienced mentor, gaining valuable technical skills.

A two-hour conversation at a Northeastern career fair with an Air Force representative spurred Kefallinos’ interest in the SMART scholarship. Kefallinos’ application to SMART Program included two essays: one on why she was interested in working for the DoD and the other on how her work experiences had led her to pursue a career in the DoD’s civilian workforce. As a mechanical engineering major with minors in math and data science, Kefallinos is looking forward to working on many interdisciplinary research initiatives at Hanscom Air Force Base in Lexington, Massachusetts.

“I’m grateful to have been selected for this scholarship because of the wealth of opportunities available,” Kefallinos says. “Due to the rotational nature of my service agreement, I can choose to work in three very different areas of research to get a broad experience of three of the same areas to go more in-depth. Also, the DoD is such a vast organization, so there are unlimited possibilities for my career. In addition, the scholarship is funding my Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering through Northeastern’s PlusOne (accelerated master’s degree) program, further enabling me to contribute to the DoD mission.”

Although Kefallinos comes from a family of engineers, she intended on majoring in piano performance until she fell in love with physics in her senior year of high school. She chose Northeastern because of the renowned co-op program and the many research opportunities available to undergrad students. Through Northeastern career fairs, Kefallinos was able to secure an internship at Gilbane Construction, a co-op at Raytheon Technologies, and now the SMART Scholarship. She says, “I wouldn’t have had these opportunities without the career fairs, the co-op advising team, and my professors, who have been available to answer the many questions I had and fostered my love for engineering and research. I’m so thankful to everyone who helped me along the way – it was a team effort”.

Kefallinos recently completed a co-op as an operations specialist at Raytheon Technologies in Andover, Massachusetts, where she worked in research and development and industrial engineering capacities. As part of the research and development team, she investigated a new method of removing and replacing broken circuit card components to increase production yield. Her work with the industrial engineering team taught her how to conduct lean workshops and implement lean practices to reduce waste and cycle time in a manufacturing setting. “I love that co-op is integrated into the curriculum because it not only gives you experience working in your field but also a different perspective and greater appreciation of what you learn in classes,” Kefallinos says.

Although graduation is still three years away, Kefallinos is eagerly anticipating her first internship at Hansom AFB in the summer of 2022. “I’m most excited for the opportunity to have a career that serves a mission bigger than myself; not every job is concerned with protecting the lives and futures of service members, citizens, and the safety of America, and I am fortunate to be able to serve my country in a civilian capacity.”

The Department of Defense is the largest employer of scientists and engineers in the nation with nearly 300,000 STEM professionals. For over a decade, SMART has trained a highly-skilled STEM workforce that competes with the evolving trends of the industry to support the next generation of science and technology for our nation.

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering