When Ryan Fouts stepped onto the South Dakota State University campus four years ago, he knew he was in the right place.
“It felt like everyone here had my best interests in mind. Their goal was to help me achieve my goals,” recalled the senior mechanical engineering major from Moville, Iowa. What he did not know then was just how much he would accomplish.
This summer, Fouts received the prestigious SMART scholarship, which covers not only his education and living expenses, but also provides an internship next summer and an engineering position at a Department of Defense facility after he graduates.
“When I sent the text to my parents, my dad said he actually started crying,” Fouts said. His father, Lt. Col. Kevin Fouts, formerly of the 185th Air Refueling Wing of the Iowa Air Guard, is currently working at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. “I have always wanted to serve my country as my father has done. Now I have that opportunity.”
The scholarship will provide full tuition, a monthly stipend, health insurance and book allowance for Fouts’ final semester of undergraduate work this fall and his master’s work at South Dakota State. That totals about $25,000 a year for an undergraduate and nearly $33,000 a year for a graduate student. In addition, Fouts has the option to extend the funding another three years if he chooses to pursue a doctorate.
Fouts is the second mechanical engineering student to get the SMART scholarship; the first was Trevor Layh in 2011. “This is an extremely competitive scholarship program,” said professor Kurt Bassett, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The Department of Defense established the Science, Mathematics and Research and Transformation scholarship program in 2005 to support undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Creating opportunity through hard work
“This is a huge scholarship and a great opportunity for Ryan,” said assistant professor Todd Letcher, who encouraged Fouts to apply for the SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program. Fouts has been working on 3D printing with Letcher since May 2017.
“Ryan has done so much to help out with so many of my projects. He works hard every day and stays here all summer to work on our projects. He’ll jump in and help anybody who need helps any time,” Letcher said. Last summer, Fouts helped develop the control system for a 3D printer designed to construct a 1/3-scale shelter for the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.
This summer, Fouts built an agricultural sprayer test bed as part of a research project sponsored by Raven Industries. Assistant professor Jeffrey Doom, whose expertise is in aerospace engineering, oversaw Fouts’ work on the sprayer test bed. “Ryan is an excellent student and was a tremendous help on the project,” Doom said.
“I’ve been given opportunities that helped me succeed,” said Fouts, who credits his parents for the work ethic that has been integral to his success. “I was raised to do things right the first time. If you need something done that’s hard to do, I am willing to put in the time to make sure it gets done right.”
In elementary and high school, Fouts said, “Teachers noticed I was a hard worker and had a desire to learn.” When Fouts came to South Dakota State, he said, “My passion for learning about aerospace and (the professors’) passion for teaching and everything that they know have given me these opportunities.”
Preparing for service
In June, Fouts spent a couple of days at the DOD facility where he will work, Whiteman Air Force Base, near Warrensburg, Missouri. The base is the home to the 509th Bomb Wing and the only B-2 Spirit bomber unit.
“It’s is a civil engineering squadron,” he explained. That’s a bit ironic, because Fouts enrolled in the civil engineering program first before changing his major to mechanical engineering. In summer 2016, he did a civil engineering internship. “I learned a lot of valuable knowledge about engineering and the engineering process,” he said.
At Whiteman, Fouts will work with the mechanical engineers in charge of heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. Though he admits, “HVAC is not necessarily related to my research experiences,” he will be taking some courses to prepare himself for the job. However, he noted, “the controls work I’ve done will come in handy.”
The internship next summer “will be their opportunity to teach me what happens there and get me warmed up to what they have going on,” he said. “Everybody there works directly or indirectly to support the B-2 mission. What got me the most excited is the people and culture—they take pride in what they do.”