Air Force Research Leads Software Engineering Student to Department of Defense Scholarship

Timothy Elvira

After working on projects for the U.S. Air Force Research Lab, software engineering student Timothy Elvira recently won a Department of Defense (DoD) scholarship that will support his master’s and Ph.D. studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Elvira, 23, recently received the 2020 Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship, a highly competitive and prestigious scholarship-for-service program sponsored by the DoD. Established as a concentrated effort to enhance the DoD’s workforce, the program recruits talented and innovative scientists, engineers and researchers. Scholars then work within labs and agencies of the Army, Navy and Air Force to help secure the nation.

The four-year scholarship provides an annual stipend of $38,000 in addition to funds for tuition, health insurance, books and an internship. Following completion of his degree, Elvira will work for the sponsoring military branch, the U.S. Air Force, to continue to learn from the greatest minds in STEM and defense.

Elvira’s exposure to Air Force research began in 2018 while he was completing his bachelor’s in software engineering. Assistant professor Dr. Omar Ochoa manages a funded initiative on behalf of Embry-Riddle for the Air Force Research Lab. Noticing Elvira and another student’s potential, he offered them the opportunity to investigate the intersection between the Semantic Web and machine learning and challenged them to develop novel ways to incorporate both.

“The Semantic Web is a way to structure and annotate data with a meaning that can be read by machines,” Ochoa said. “We strive to encode domain knowledge coming from the Semantic Web into the training of machine learning algorithms to improve their performance.”

This type of hands-on experience at Embry-Riddle led Elvira to an internship a year later working on a classified project for the Air Force Research Lab, where his skills were put to the test.

“Thanks to Embry-Riddle, I learned how to think quickly on my feet,” Elvira said. “In a research and development environment, being able to work through tough tasks quickly was invaluable. I was able to ‘fail fast’ if my approach didn’t work; thinking quickly allowed me to pivot to another technical path.”

Currently enrolled in an accelerated Master’s of Software Engineering degree program, Elvira looks forward to transitioning into Ph.D. studies at Embry-Riddle in Fall 2020. Ochoa, who serves as his advisor, plans to continue incorporating elements of the Air Force Research Lab’s projects into Elvira’s Ph.D. education.

“Working with Tim is very rewarding,” Ochoa said. “He brings a combination of maturity and technical expertise that is vital to our research group.”