Montana State University

Computer science undergraduate awarded Defense Department SMART scholarship

September 23, 2009 -- By Michael Becker, MSU News Service

Justin Krohn has won a SMART scholarship from the Department of Defense. The scholarship will pay for Krohn's remaining two years at MSU. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Montana State University junior Justin Krohn can't remember a time before computers were part of his life.

Twenty years ago, his father brought a computer home for the family. Krohn started learning immediately and was writing simple programs by age 7.

That interest in computers never waned. Now a computer science major at MSU, Krohn can assemble a computer from parts in just 10 minutes, and his house in Bozeman is the definition of "wired," full of computers, antennas and transmitters that serve as a testbed for his various digital interests.

Now Krohn has the chance to take his love of computers to the next level. This summer, the Department of Defense awarded him one of its prestigious Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation scholarships.

The SMART scholarship will pay the cost of Krohn's last two years at MSU, plus an annual stipend of $25,000. In return for the scholarship, Krohn will spend two years working at a Navy undersea warfare research center near Seattle.

"I'm ecstatic," said Krohn, 25. "Being able to concentrate on school for the next year and take a lot more credits is a really cool feeling. I might actually have some free time."

Krohn's schedule has been more or less full since he arrived in Bozeman in late 2005. He immediately got a job at MSU's Western Transportation Institute and worked there for a year before starting work on a double-major in computer engineering and computer science.

"I found out pretty quick that computer science and software development is really where my heart is," said the Kent, Wash., native.

In addition to his work and classes, Krohn is married and is also involved in the local chapter of the IEEE engineering society and in Hivemind, a student-run computer gaming group.

Krohn started at WTI as a computer support technician, helping to keep desktop computers running smoothly, said Doug Galarus, manager of WTI's systems group.

"We found after a little bit of time that it might be more valuable for him to be doing more research than day-to-day computer support," Galarus said.

Galarus helped Krohn become a student research assistant. From there, Krohn helped WTI with a number of wireless networking projects, including research aimed at improving wireless communication in rural areas.

Krohn's habit of tinkering with computers at home was a big help, said Galarus, who wrote one of Krohn's recommendation letters for the SMART scholarship.

"Tinkering at home is an understatement," Galarus said. "He lives and breathes this stuff. You'd pick his brain, and if he didn't know something, he'd come back the next day and tell you everything you wanted to know about it."

Robert Maher, head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has known Krohn since he first came to MSU. Maher said Krohn immediately stood out in his classes.

"You could tell immediately. He was one of those students who was head and shoulders above the rest in intellect and ability," Maher said. "Computers are just who he is. He's got a super-geek kind of attitude, but he really pulls it off."

With the new scholarship, Krohn has left WTI to focus on his studies, but he said gaining all that work experience while going to school was invaluable.

"My four years at WTI have been critical in my development," he said. "There is so much they can't teach in the classroom. They just don't have the time, and you also don't get the interactions you have in the workplace, where it's with your peers and superiors and end-users," Krohn said.

Krohn is one of only three students in Montana to win a SMART scholarship. Civil engineering student Bryant Robbins and a student at the University of Montana also won the scholarship.

Out of the 2,000 students who applied this year, only about 300 received the award.

Over the summer, Krohn was hired by Naval Sea Systems Command, also called NAVSEA, one of the Navy's research and development agencies. He spent the summer working at NAVSEA's undersea warfare facility in Keyport, Wash.

"I can't really talk about the stuff I'm doing at Keyport. I've signed so many non-disclosure agreements in the past year that I'm never quite sure what I can talk about anymore," he joked.

After he graduates from MSU, Krohn will return to the Keyport labs to fulfill his scholarship obligations to the Department of Defense by working as a civilian researcher.

Krohn takes satisfaction from knowing that his work will help keep American ships and sailors safe.

"It's gratifying to know that my work is directly helping the safety of our sailors and soldiers in the field," he said. "Even though I'm not standing there beside them, the work that I'm doing is actually helping keep them safe and keep our country safe."

For Krohn, it's seeing the small parts come together that gives him the greatest fulfillment.

"It's the culmination, the finished product, seeing all the different parts that you've labored and worked on over a long period of time coming together to just work," he said.

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"MSU undergraduate receives prestigious Defense Department scholarship," May 4, 2009 --

Contact: Michael Becker at 406-994-5140 or