M.S. Student David Hamilton Receives ASEE SMART Award-Department of Biological Sciences - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

M.S. Student David Hamilton Receives ASEE SMART Award

Imagine securing post-graduation employment when you are only halfway through your degree. M.S. in Computational Biology student David Hamilton is one of those lucky individuals, because he is an American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship recipient.

With this Department of Defense (DoD)-supported award, Hamilton will join the U.S. Army Public Health Command at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland as a civilian employee after graduation. He will be working on the Environmental Health Risk Assessment Initiative, developing exposure guidelines for aerosolized microorganisms.

But before heading to Maryland, Hamilton must finish building an essential toolkit of skills at Carnegie Mellon University. One skill that he has already added is the realization that he has an innate talent for programming, which he discovered while taking the course Fundamental Data Structures and Algorithms. Also, Computational Molecular Biology and Genomics, Computational Methods for Biological Modeling and Simulation, Machine Learning, and Web Application Development are a few of the courses he will be completing in Fall 2011.

Hamilton entered the masters program with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, experience working in a laboratory at Children’s Hospital of Boston and multiple years of teaching high school biology and chemistry. While working in the Children’s Hospital laboratory, he first encountered computational biology. “I kind of got the sense of how computational the field was becoming,” stated Hamilton. “But I thought at the time that I couldn’t program, so I opted for teaching. [Computational biology] was always in the back of my mind, though.”

After a few years of teaching, he revisited the idea of graduate school and computational biology. He specifically looked for a program with an excellent reputation in computer science to compliment his current biology skills. “ I figured that if I was going to learn computer science, then what better place to do it [than at CMU],” Hamilton said.

He also chose CMU because of the flexibility of the masters program. “The program doesn’t have a large set of required courses or sequences, because it is an interdisciplinary program. People are coming from many fields, so it gives people the flexibility to do what is best for them.”

This summer Hamilton is interning at Microsoft with the Windows group. When he returns for the fall semester, his SMART scholarship will pay tuition and other education expenses for the year as well as provide a generous cash award and health insurance allowance. According to the SMART Scholarship website and brochure, the scholarship is part of a DoD “effort to improve the flow of new, highly technical labor into DoD facilities and agencies… SMART offers scholarships to undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students who have demonstrated ability and special aptitude for excelling in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.”