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April 10, 2008
Contact: Jill Hummels, School of Engineering, (785) 864-2934.

KU computer science graduate student wins federal SMART fellowship

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas student is among a select group of students nationwide to receive a 2008 Science Mathematics And Research for Transformation (SMART) Defense Fellowship.

Mike Wasikowski, a master’s student in computer science from Omaha, will receive a $25,000 stipend, book allowance, health insurance and full tuition and fees as part of this Department of Defense program.

“Mike is a hardworking and brilliant student,” said Xue-Wen Chen, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science who is guiding Wasikowski on his graduate studies and research activities at KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center. “I was impressed by his motivation and sincerity toward work. He is dedicated and has great potential in research.”

As part of the program, fellowship recipients must fulfill a one-year employment obligation with a Department of Defense agency for each year they receive the fellowship. Wasikowski, who is studying machine learning algorithms and feature selection techniques, will work for TRAC-Monterey, a research center at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

“The specific organization that I’m looking at does a lot of research on projects like automatic target recognition — looking at a large image of, say, a battlefield and trying to pick out areas that are potentially hazardous such as missile silos,” he said. “You need to know where you have to look to figure out if there’s something there in the first place. They’re also working on robots that can adapt and learn depending on the environment or what they experience. Those sort of techniques would be very, very beneficial to them.”

Getting a SMART fellowship requires, well, some smarts.

The extensive application process, which begins in the fall, requires each candidate to submit detailed academic information, letters of reference and information about his or her research interests. Successful candidates also must endure two rounds of reviews by personnel within the Department of Defense, Wasikowski said.

“It’s definitely a load off my chest, knowing that I got it and that I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to be in the next couple of years, what I’m going to be doing,” he said.

Wasikowski earned undergraduate degrees in math, computer science and psychology at Truman State University in Missouri in 2007. He said his career aspirations are still open.

“I plan on spending at least three years there to get my feet grounded and get some good work experience,” he said. “If it’s something that I really like, I might stay there.”

Wasikowski is the son of Larry and Teresa Wasikowski of Omaha and a graduate of Ralston (Neb.) High School.

First awarded in 2005, the SMART fellowship program is designed to promote the education, recruitment and retention of students in science, math and engineering studies. Wasikowski is the second KU School of Engineering student to receive a SMART fellowship since 2006.

“This scholarship is very competitive — so it speaks a volume about our program, our research, and our student,” Chen said.

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