Three CSULB College of Engineering students are recipients of prestigious SMART Scholarships and will be working for the Department of Defense after finishing their studies. National Institutes of Health BUILD Fellow Kyle Horiuchi ’21 and McNair Scholar David Ramirez ’20 both majored in Aerospace Engineering and worked in Assistant Professor Joseph Kalman’s Solid Propulsion & Combustion Lab (SPACL). Aramis Kelkelyan is a junior in Mechanical Engineering who is on the Long Beach Rocketry team and works in Assistant Professor Navdeep Singh Dhillon's STEAM-I Lab.
The SMART Scholarship, which has an 18 percent acceptance rate, provides full tuition and education-related expenses, summer internships with mentors, and employment at a DoD facility after graduation. Recipients are described as “among the most talented and innovative minds in STEM.”
Ramirez will pursue a doctorate in Mechanical Engineering at Pennsylvania State University, with a focus on combustion. He’ll work at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, where he hopes to develop the next generation of rocket propellants without two-phase flow losses or incomplete combustion.
Horiuchi is pursuing a doctorate in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at University of California, Irvine. He plans to continue working in combustion research, which he enjoys for its complexity and varied branches, but hasn’t ruled out a career in academia.
“It’s amazing just to see one of your students receive an award of this caliber, but two is unbelievable,” said Kalman, adding that it’s gratifying their hard work in solving difficult research problems paid off. “They both have very bright futures and I could not be prouder.”
The recipients said they look forward to focusing on research and studies without worrying about finances, as well as the DoD opportunities that await.
"SMART provides a mentor to guide me, a community to grow with me, and the ability to work with some of the coolest and most advanced technology in the world," said Kelkelyan, who will be assigned to the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Port Hueneme, where engineers work on high-tech combat and radar systems. "I’m excited to see what other possibilities lie ahead."
Horiuchi said the scholarship strengthens his passion for engineering and research. “I will be provided with excellent support throughout graduate school, which will allow me to bring full focus to my studies and research.”
Ramirez credits hard work, help from mentors, and a little luck for landing him the scholarship. “The SMART scholarship will allow me to learn from and build connections with the best and brightest minds during my summer internships at my sponsoring government facility,” he said.
The DoD employs more than 200,000 civilian scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who work on some of the world's most interesting research projects. In addition to collaborating with experienced innovators, SMART Scholars have access to world-class facilities, including the world’s largest supercomputers.
Ramirez credits CSULB research opportunities and club activities with setting a strong foundation. Upon transferring from Cerritos College, he was introduced to university-level research in the Summer Bridge to the Beach program and learned how to design experiments in Assistant Professor Ehsan Barjasteh’s Advanced Polymer and Composites Lab.
His interest in space and rocketry led him to Kalman’s lab, where he learned about solid rocket propellants and interfacial chemistry. Ramirez, who recently worked as external manager of diversity and inclusion in Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), came across the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program while searching for other CSULB research opportunities. Developed in honor of the former astronaut, the program helps underrepresented students achieve doctorates.
Both also had strong support from their families. Ramirez said he removed the training wheels from his bike at age 4 after watching his father take things apart and put them together. Horiuchi’s interest in rockets and space exploration was sparked by his aunt taking him to Boeing during Bring Your Child to Work Day. “This stuck with me throughout my schooling,” he said.
Once at CSULB, Horiuchi said his course work on thermal sciences and rockets prompted him to join the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA), which was led by Ramirez, who introduced him to Kalman.
“Dr. Kalman has been the greatest mentor and teacher I could have asked for,” said Horiuchi. “He’s helped me develop critical research skills and knowledge I would have never thought I could achieve.”
Ramirez said Kalman taught him to think like a researcher. “My first semester with Dr. Kalman, he mentored me through my self-study on solid rocketry and interfacial chemistry. It was in those sessions where I learned how to analyze and place perspective on what I read,” Ramirez said. “He also mentored me on the development of my first publication, where he showed me how writing research articles is like telling a story.”