Eagle Wins National ‘Full-Ride’ Scholarship and Career Boost

Ph.D. Student John Zelina
Ph.D. student John Zelina was recently awarded a scholarship from the U.S. Department of Defense that will fund the entirety of his tuition, plus an annual stipend. (Photo: John Zelina)

An Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University doctoral student conducting highly specialized aerospace engineering research, John Zelina tried to keep an open mind when it came to choosing his future career field.

“I just wanted a career where I get to do challenging and interesting things,” said the Ph.D. student, who also earned his master’s from Embry-Riddle in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.

So far, the approach is working. Zelina was recently awarded a U.S. Department of Defense Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship with the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) in Panama City, Florida.

“It’s an absolute game-changer,” said Zelina about the award. “Not only will I be more financially stable for the remainder of my studies, but I will also have great networking opportunities, experience, publications and countless other benefits. I will be able to not only continue my work but expand it to a wider class of systems.”

The award is part of a highly competitive scholarship-for-service program sponsored by the Department of Defense (DoD). It is designed to recruit scientists, engineers and researchers to work within labs and agencies of the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. It will also provide full tuition and fees for the remaining two years of Zelina’s Ph.D. program, a yearly stipend of $25,000 to 38,000, and internships and mentoring. After he earns his degree, he will work at the NSWC for at least two years.

Zelina will apply his research — which focuses on developing adaptive control methods for systems that change over time, such as when fuel burn changes an aircraft’s weight — to problems of interest to NSWC, such as the control of autonomous underwater vehicles.

“My research aligns closely with the goals at the NSWC,” Zelina said, explaining that autonomous submersible vehicles operate for long periods of time in which uncertainties, such as mechanical failures or shifting currents, can affect them.

Zelina thanked Dr. Richard Prazenica, associate professor and chair in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Dr. K. Merve Dogan, assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, and Dr. Brittany Davis, director of the Office of Prestigious Awards and Fellowships, for their help in securing the fellowship.

He said he looks forward to working on solving all kinds of engineering problems in his career.

“Aircraft, spacecraft or underwater vehicles, I’m not picky — my work can apply to all sorts of things,” Zelina said. “As long as I get to continue working on what hasn’t been done before, I’ll be happy."

Additional Honors

  • Freshman Computer Science student Jackson Salyards has also won a full-ride DoD SMART Scholarship. "It allows me to not have to worry about finances. I can just focus on school," said Salyards, who is treasurer of the White Hat Eagle Cyber Security Club and a member of the Artificial Intelligence Club on Embry-Riddle's Daytona Beach Campus. As part of the award, Salyards will work summers at Naval Air station Patuxent River in Maryland.
  • This year's other winners of the DoD SMART Scholarship are Katharine Larson, Aerospace Engineering second-year graduate student; David Velez, Aerospace Engineering senior; Suzanna Kress, Mechanical Engineering freshman; John (Will) Sandor, Aerospace Engineering junior; Braeden Steuer, Mechanical Engineering junior; and Brian Knight, Aerospace Engineering sophomore.
  • Jarred Jordan, a junior in Aerospace Engineering, has been selected to join the Astronaut Scholarship program for the 2022-2023 academic school year. “I'm definitely looking forward to meeting other motivated student researchers from around the country and leaders within the space industry,” said Jordan. “The scholarship awards up to $15,000, depending on the recipient’s need and other funding. Jordan, who studies machine learning and computer vision applications for spacecraft, was also recently named undergraduate researcher of the year by Embry-Riddle’s Office of Undergraduate Research.
  • Brennan McCann, a Ph.D. student who researches spacecraft guidance, navigation and control, has been accepted to the Planetary Science Summer School internship program. The development program is hosted by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and focuses on robotic space exploration missions. McCann called the program “a great opportunity to learn from some of the most qualified experts in planetary science missions. I think personally it's going to be a great opportunity because I've always enjoyed the mission-planning stage of the design process. It is very satisfying to see a set of requirements and science goals manifest itself as a proposed spacecraft,” he said. “This is right in line with what I'd like to do for my career.”

Posted In: Engineering