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Get SMART: New College student awarded Department of Defense scholarship

October 24, 2008

Tim Nolen, a senior pursuing an applied computing degree in Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship by the U.S. Department of Defense. The prestigious scholarship service program was established to support undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.

“This is very rewarding, to be provided the opportunity to be in this program,” says Nolen, who expects to receive his bachelor’s degree in May. “I’m excited about this because I think serving your nation is an honorable thing to do, and this will give me the chance. I’m also looking forward to experiencing the great programs the government has for advancing education while you work.”

Nolen will get his chance. Part of an effort to improve the flow of new, highly skilled technical labor into Department of Defense facilities and agencies, and to enhance the technical skills of the work force already in place, the SMART scholarships include placement in paid summer internships. Upon graduation, SMART award recipients are placed in civilian jobs in the department’s laboratories and agencies. As the post-degree service commitment is commensurate with the length of the scholarship award, Nolen’s will be a guaranteed one-year employment stint.

“New College and this (applied computing) degree have given me the tools and the knowledge I need,” says the resident of nearby Glendale who graduated from Ironwood High School in 2004. “There aren’t too many database-specific degree programs at colleges, so this has been a real advantage and a benefit.”

The bachelor’s degree in applied computing encourages students to learn approaches from a multi-disciplinary perspective. It focuses on the creation, use, dissemination and administration of information to users in government, nonprofit, academic, business, library and other settings through the merger of technical and other approaches. The degree curriculum emphasizes the selection, evaluation, description, storage, retrieval, manipulation and presentation of information in all its forms, including text, image, sound and numbers.

As a senior in New College’s Mathematical and Natural Sciences division, Nolen notes among his coursework accomplishments a pair of projects exploring technologies related to databases and the Web.

In the fall of 2007 he used Microsoft technology with ASP.NET, a free technology available to any user to create a modern Web site, and SQL Server, a relational database system. In an independent study course this spring, Nolen was part of a team that investigated the teaching of databases in conjunction with Web programming. His piece was to investigate the open source technology of php, a general-purpose scripting language suited for Web development, and mySQL, a database management system popular for Web applications. In the summer he was part of a team that wrote a paper that compared the two approaches.

He worked on the project with Suzanne Dietrich, New College associate professor of applied computing, and Mahesh Chaudhari, one of Dietrich’s doctoral students from ASU’s Tempe campus where she is an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The paper is being used this semester as an introduction to databases and the Web in a third-year applied computing course, Database Systems and Transaction Processing, with an eye toward publication in the future.

“Tim is a student who consistently accepts the challenges presented to him, either through coursework or independent study,” says Dietrich, who received her doctorate in computer science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1987.  “He is not daunted by the amount of effort required, and he goes beyond the requirements, verifying his understanding each step of the way.”

Dietrich says Nolen, whose study concentration is advanced database systems, is perfectly suited for the SMART award, one that recognizes an advanced aptitude and interest in conducting theoretical and applied research.

“He definitely demonstrates those qualities,” she says of her first SMART recipient. “He is an independent thinker and a problem solver who works very well in a team environment.

“He will gain hands-on database experience through employment with his sponsoring Department of Defense lab for at least a year after graduation. Beyond that, he has so many opportunities to consider, including furthering his education and continuing research in graduate school.”

Elizabeth Langland, dean of New College, says the research done by Nolen is indicative of the college’s opportunities.

“This is the first year we have posted the SMART scholarship, and it is not surprising to see one of our students rewarded. What separates New College from other liberal arts schools is this very opportunity to conduct research alongside faculty.”

Nolen doesn’t yet know the specifics of what his assignment with the Department of Defense will entail, but knows it will be in the database area in the Army. 

“As long as I am satisfied and feel like I am accomplishing something important, I’ll be happy, though I imagine I’ll strive toward some sort of higher degree – a master’s or Ph.D., perhaps.”