Montana State University

MSU engineering student wins Department of Defense scholarship

August 30, 2013 -- Sepp Jannotta, MSU News Service

Montana State University civil engineering senior Josh Robbins was recently awarded a highly competitive U.S. Department of Defense Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation, or SMART, scholarship. The scholarship will pay all tuition for Robbins' final year at MSU, plus a $25,000 salary, as well as stipends for health care and books. After graduation he will work for a year with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. MSU Photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571

BOZEMAN – Josh Robbins, a senior in the Civil Engineering Department at Montana State University, has a simple message for his fellow students: There are great scholarship and career opportunities out there if you know where to look.

Robbins, who was recently awarded a highly competitive U.S. Department of Defense Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation, or SMART, scholarship, will be the first to admit he had some guidance in locating and applying for his big award. In 2009, Robbins’ brother Bryant Robbins also won a SMART scholarship.

As it did for his brother, the SMART scholarship will pay all tuition for Josh Robbins' final year at MSU, plus a $25,000 salary, as well as stipends for health care and books. After graduation he will work for a year with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“This is one of those excellent opportunities that are out there,” Josh Robbins said. “And the best part is, with a job waiting for me, it feels like the pressure has been taken off my shoulders in that area.”

Although it felt “like a shot in the dark” when he applied, Robbins said he’s glad he did and would recommend to his fellow science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students at MSU that they also take a shot.

As the second member of his family to win this particular award, Josh Robbins’ optimism is understandable. But his application for a SMART scholarship, which is a decade-old program aimed at increasing the ranks of civilian engineers and scientists working at Department of Defense laboratories, put him up against tough odds, tougher even than when his brother won it.

For the 2013-14 academic year, only 150 scholarships were awarded out of 2,400 applicants, an acceptance rate of slightly more than 6 percent. When Bryant Robbins earned his SMART scholarship in 2009, the program accepted 300, or 15 percent, of that year’s 2,000 applications.

Applicants with a 3.0 grade-point average or higher submit an application that includes a transcript, letters of reference, their college-entry standardized test scores, as well as listings of goals, awards and honors, and leadership and working experiences. Robbins’ application materials included a sterling transcript – his GPA stands at 3.95 – and work experience through an internship with the Montana Department of Transportation, which had him using and applying hydraulic analysis software that is relevant for engineers working for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Josh Robbins, who is the fourth MSU student to win a SMART scholarship, said his selection was a credit to the quality of the education MSU’s engineering, science and math students get.

“MSU is one of the smaller schools you see (contributing SMART scholars),” Robbins added. “But we really benefit because there is such an emphasis on hands-on learning and research and we have a lot of one-on-one access to the professors.”

Bryant Robbins echoed his brother’s thoughts.

“I routinely work with senior engineers across the country that have PhD’s from the most elite schools in the world,” Bryant Robbins said. “I can tell you that the undergrad (civil engineering) education I received at MSU is world class. People are constantly surprised by the range of items I was taught while going to school there.”

Their collective success with winning SMART scholarships has been particularly inspiring to their parents, Bryant Robbins said.

“Our parents think we should write a book about how to earn (scholarship) money in school,” he said.

Josh Robbins, who grew up in Manhattan and then in the Kalispell area, also followed his brother’s lead in landing the job with the Montana Department of Transportation’s MSU-based design group, knowing, as his brother had, that it would put him under the guidance of working engineers who could help a student learn the ropes.

“The experience I gained (with MDT) from performing design work on current projects was a key component in being selected” for the SMART, Josh Robbins said.

Jim Nallick, a former design supervisor with MDT who supervised both brothers, said the name jumped out when Josh Robbins applied to join the group as an intern.

“We said, ‘We’ve got to take a look at this guy,’ and of course, neither of (the Robbins brothers) disappointed,” said Nallick, who is now a senior transportation engineer with Sanderson & Stewart, a community development firm with offices in Montana, North Dakota and Colorado. “Josh is just a really motivated, smart guy.”

At the end of his senior year, Josh Robbins will join the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Galveston, Texas. While, he doesn’t know exactly what kinds of projects he’ll be assigned, Josh said he knows he’ll be working in the hydraulics and geotechnical disciplines of civil engineering, with an emphasis on design.

If Bryant’s experiences are any indication of what’s in his future, Josh Robbins said he can’t wait. In 2010, Bryant Robbins reported to the Engineering and Research Development Center, an Army Corps of Engineers lab complex in Vicksburg, Miss., where he still works.

An avid outdoorsman, Josh Robbins said he was looking forward to exploring the fishing and hunting opportunities on the Gulf coast of Texas, a state he has yet to visit.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Josh Robbins said. “But I’m also really looking forward to my last year at MSU and having another year in Bozeman.”

Contact: Sepp Jannotta, (406) 994-7371 or