For most college seniors, finding a job after graduation is their top priority. For Honors College student Courtney Beckham, that’s not a concern. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), she already has a two-year job lined up. And she’s only a junior.

Last year, Beckham was awarded the Department of Defense SMART Scholarship for her final two years of school. The scholarship is awarded to graduate and undergraduate students in STEM fields with the intent to increase civilian participation within the DoD.

Courtney Beckham is a math major in the Honors College.

Courtney Beckham is a math major in the Honors College.

For Beckham, this award means the cost of tuition at the College is covered. She also receives an annual stipend, an 8–2-week internship in summer 2018 with her sponsoring facility, and, 30 days after graduating, she will start her new position with her sponsoring facility in Washington, D.C.

“What’s most intimidating is to be uncomfortable. I’m accustomed to the culture in South Carolina, and it’s intimidating to know that in two years, as soon as I graduate, I’ll be moving my stuff to Washington, D.C., and have to find a roommate,” says Beckham, a math major at the College.

In Beckham’s case, the sponsoring facility is the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the DoD agency charged with ensuring warfighters, defense planners and policymakers understand foreign military capabilities so they can prevent or decisively win wars.

She was able to share some of what she’ll be doing at her internship next summer and what she could likely be doing when she switches over to a full-time position after graduation.

“I’ll be getting a feel for the workplace and the type of job I’ll have upon graduation,” says Beckham. “It will help me prepare not only for my job in the future but also going into my senior year to determine what area of mathematics I want to hone in on, and to help me figure out any specific classes I might want to take that are more advantageous to the field that I’ll be going into.”

Among the opportunities at the College that Beckham appreciates most are the professors. The College’s faculty has been a major support system for her, both inside and outside the classroom.

“They are really invested. They care. I’ve had so many phenomenal professors that have written me recommendations and care about my learning experience,” says Beckham. “I know I can go to them with any questions that I have about that class or just questions about opportunities in general.”

In fact, it was computer science professor Lancie Affonso who encouraged Beckham to apply to the SMART program earlier than she had planned to.

“I mentioned the SMART Scholarship to professor Affonso during the fall semester of my sophomore year and he encouraged me to apply sooner than I had planned to,” says Beckham. 

He wasn’t the only professor who helped her out. History professor Jennifer Cavalli helped Beckham with her curriculum vitae and helped her polish several of her essays.

Courtney Beckham is the recipient of the SMART Scholarship with the Department of Defense.

Courtney Beckham is the recipient of the SMART Scholarship with the Department of Defense.

Involved in various activities such as the Pep Band, Wind Ensemble and the Women in STEM club, which she helped found, Beckham has a busy schedule ahead of her for the next two years. Next semester, she’ll be starting a major research project for the Honors College.

“I’ll be doing a research project on predictive analysis, which is the process of using data to predict how something is going to happen,” says Beckham. “For example, your phone collects information about you constantly and say it knows that once a week you go out to eat Italian food. If you move to a new location, your phone is going to automatically suggest a new Italian restaurant within that area because it predicts that that’s where you’re going to want to eat. In the same way, predictive analysis is opening up to where people can predict other people’s actions.”

Predicting Beckham’s future seems pretty easy as she continues her academic journey and prepares for what she hopes will be a long and fruitful career with the United States government.

All photos by Reese Moore

Lilly Frederick is a junior from San Diego studying English and creative writing at the College of Charleston. She is also an Orientation Intern for the Office of New Student Programs.