MACON – Mercer University School of Engineering students Mikayla Alves and Alyssa M. Bonifacio were recently awarded the Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

Alves and Bonifacio will receive full tuition, an annual stipend and additional allowances for each year they commit to working for the DoD after graduation. They will also participate in a summer research internship and be paired with a mentor at one of the scholarship program’s sponsoring facilities.

“The SMART Scholarship is highly prestigious and competitive,” said Dr. Laura Lackey, dean and Georgia Kaolin Industry Chair of Engineering. “I’m so proud of and happy for Mikayla and Alyssa for being selected. Their hard work in the classroom has earned them this fabulous opportunity.”

Mikayla Alves

Alves, from Snellville, is a senior majoring in electrical engineering. She plans to pursue a master’s degree as well as her Professional Engineer license and Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification.

Upon completion of her master’s degree, she will work at the U.S. Army DEVCOM C5ISR Center in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where she will pursue research related to detection of landmines.

“It is great to know all my hard work while at Mercer has been worth it for my future endeavors,” said Alves. “The support system I have created here has been my main source of encouragement.”

At Mercer, Alves is a member of the Student Government Association’s Organizational Affairs Committee, vice president of the National Society of Black Engineers and past vice president of the Biomedical Engineering Society. She was selected to receive a Gilman Scholarship to South Korea, has presented her research at the American Society of Engineering Education Conference, where she and her collaborators won first-place in the Junior/Senior Division for research related to teaching STEM to students in underprivileged communities, and has participated in Mercer’s Visionary Student Panel.

“I have known Mikayla for many years now, and what I am most impressed about is her work ethic,” said Dr. Stephen Hill, associate professor of mechanical engineering and associate dean of the engineering school. “We worked together on an electrodialysis project with another student, and Mikayla was the one driving the project forward. I could count on her to be prepared and to lead discussions during our weekly meetings. She was able deliver on her end of the project, for which I am always grateful.”

Alyssa Bonifacio

Bonifacio, from Warner Robins, is a sophomore majoring in computer engineering. She plans to complete the School of Engineering’s 4+1 Integrated Degree Program and receive a master’s degree in software engineering.

Upon completion of her master’s degree, she will work at Robins Air Force Base in the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

“I’ve always wanted to work on defense to help protect our country and our allies, so I’m grateful to have been selected as a SMART Scholar,” said Bonifacio. “I’d like to thank Dr. Kleio Avrithi, Dr. Anthony Choi, Dr. Frank McNally and my close friends and family for encouraging and supporting me in this endeavor.”

At Mercer, Bonifacio serves as co-leader of the High-Altitude Research Platform (HARP) and is a participant in the Engineering Honors Program, where she is pursuing a project about failure analysis in piping systems. She also won the 2021 Mercer Robotics Club Hackathon and serves the club as a web developer and social media chair. Earlier this semester, she received a Fund for Education Abroad (FEA) scholarship to support a study abroad program in Japan next spring.

“Alyssa is one of the most pleasant people you will ever meet, but don’t let that fool you.  Underneath, she has passion and drive. She was one of the rare students who approached me during their freshman year interested in research. She has quickly risen through the ranks to serve as co-leader of the high-altitude research payload project funded by NASA,” said Dr. Anthony Choi, professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Machine Intelligence and Robotics Laboratory.

The SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program was established as a concentrated effort to enhance the DoD workforce with talented, innovative and brilliant scientists, engineers and researchers. For more than a decade, SMART Scholars have been working within labs and agencies of the Army, Navy, Air Force and additional DoD units to support the warfighter and create an impact to secure our nation.

About the School of Engineering

Mercer University’s School of Engineering, founded in 1985, offers innovative and academically challenging programs that provide students with a comprehensive education, featuring a solid foundation in mathematics and sciences, a core engineering curriculum, a range of courses in engineering specialties and a strong emphasis on communication technologies. The School is consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top three master’s-degree-level engineering schools in the Southeast. Known for its breadth of instruction in its undergraduate program and its five-year joint bachelor’s and master’s degree program, the School combines technical education with hands-on laboratory experience. Mercer engineers can look forward to joining fellow alumni in companies such as Robins Air Force Base, Mercer Engineering Research Center, Northrop Grumman, Georgia Power, Manhattan Associates and Gulfstream Aerospace.