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Computer Science Undergrad Earns Prestigious Department of Defense Scholarship

A student beaming between rocks

Boise State freshman Sammie Fullmer long has known she wanted to work in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field. The Jerome native’s dedication led her to participate in robotics programs and compete on robotics teams in junior high and high school – even giving robotics demonstrations to college students while still in high school – before landing at Boise State.

“I was fortunate in that at a young age, I was able to explore STEM and found that programming was my passion,” Fullmer explained. “I knew I wanted to do something that would serve my country and would be really useful, so when I came to Boise State, I decided to focus on computer science with an emphasis on cybersecurity.”

That dedication has paid off. Fullmer recently was awarded a highly competitive Department of Defense (DoD) SMART Scholarship for Service, which will cover her college tuition, as well as a living stipend, for up to five years. Fullmer is Boise State’s third winner since the program’s inception.

“This scholarship is huge for me,” Fullmer said. “I’m excited and proud of the work it took to get here.”

“Only a very small percentage of students who apply receive this scholarship,” added Krishna Pakala, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering and the faculty in residence for the Engineering and Innovation Residential College, where Fullmer lives. Pakala noted that it was especially striking for Fullmer to be awarded this scholarship during her freshman year. “She is an outstanding role model for all students.”

The SMART Scholarship Program was established to strengthen the Department of Defense science and technology workforce with highly skilled science and engineering professionals. While in school, participants perform research as summer interns at DoD laboratories and return to those laboratories after graduation to complete a period of obligated employment service. This provides scholars with a unique opportunity to perform research in their respective area of interest that they would not have otherwise been able to do.

Fullmer credits the Engineering and Innovation Residential College with creating the kind of atmosphere that allowed her to continue thrive with her studies and support her while applying to this nationally competitive scholarship. These are residential colleges  of 60-75 students living in the residence halls that blend academics and daily life through classes, activities and live-in professors.

“I first came here for a robotics competition in 2016, and had a friend in the community who introduced me to the faculty in residence, Krishna Pakala,” Fullmer said. “Once I met him in person I knew ‘this is what I want to do.’ The idea of living with other students who are studying the same things, who have the same work ethic that you need to be an engineer, it’s been really helpful and made the transition to college a lot easier. It’s nice being in the common room at night with a bunch of other students who are all working on the same type projects.”

“Living learning communities promote student growth,” Pakala added. “Incredible people need incredible places to thrive and succeed, and I believe with support we can use every nook and corner of our campus to achieve this. Studies have proven that a student leaves engineering not owing to its difficulty but for several other reasons often related to lack of a sense of ‘community.’ I believe the living-learning communities’ strong focus has been to foster this sense of community and improve retention.”

Fullmer’s advice for other students: “Always apply for stuff – if you don’t apply, you automatically disqualify yourself when you could’ve had a chance.”