For Clayton, living independently for the first time seems like a stimulating and exciting challenge. The rising senior is adjusting to a new SMART summer internship at the U.S. Department of Defense in Northern Virginia.
“I’ve worked before and I’m confident in my skills as an engineer, but mastering a healthy work-life balance when you have to take care of yourself is no small task,” said Clayton, who majored in electrical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University. College of Engineering and will graduate next spring.
Clayton learned about the Science, Math and Transformational Research Grant when he received an email from VCU National Scholarship Office. SMART Scholars receive full tuition, annual stipends, internships, and guaranteed DoD employment upon graduation.
“After a quick Google search, I saw the benefits and it was an easy decision,” said Clayton, who worked with the National Scholarship Office to apply for the award. “I was able to receive this award because of Dr. [Gregory E.] Triplett Mentoring During COVID. I am currently fortunate enough to be paid to complete my degree and gain real work experience that will open up new opportunities in the future. This award is my greatest achievement to date and I cannot thank those like Dr. Triplett enough for their continued support.
Helping students of color gain experience in Department of Defense security clearance is important, said Dr. Triplett, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
“The best projects are here. Sekai brings new perspectives and my goal was to help make his application more competitive,” Triplett said.
Clayton’s investigations at the Defense Department are largely unclassified, but there are aspects that are classified, he said.
“I’m learning a lot about communication, especially in the high frequency band. I can play with the technology that is loaded into our systems,” he said.
Clayton’s interest in VCU
Clayton didn’t think about engineering until his senior year of high school, when he took a digital logic design course and loved it.
“My aptitude for science and math has always been high, so I decided to take a career path that allowed me to explore this newfound interest,” he said.
Colleges weren’t on VCU’s mind until he visited campus and looked at senior design projects during the College of Engineering’s Capstone Design Expo.
“I must have been lost for an hour and then it started raining. Long story short, my socks were in a pinch on the car ride home. Even I had fun. I felt at home,” he said. “When I walked down West Main Street that day, I felt that this was a place where I could grow and become a better version of myself. That’s why I decided to come to VCU.
Advisor and mentor
Clayton owes Triplet a lot, he said.
Clayton participated in two programs that Triplett started at VCU National Academy of Engineering Sophomore Challengea sophomore-only competition to propose an idea related to the National Academy of Engineering’s Grand Challenges Scholars Program, and V-4Mation, mentoring program for blacks in engineering.
“His wisdom, resourcefulness and willingness to teach make him one of the greatest mentors I could ask for, and I know he would do that for anyone looking to adjust themselves to fit their purpose,” Clayton said of Triplett.
Triplett sees Clayton as a natural leader, he said.
“Sekai is very interested in continuous improvement. He wants to achieve results at the forefront of technology and is committed to gaining experience that expands his toolkit,” Triplett said. “I greatly appreciate his pursuit of excellence and dedication to strengthening communities.
Clayton’s position at the Department of Defense is already beginning to open doors for him.
“Not many people at that age need to have security clearances and hold positions in the DOD,” he said. “I am looking forward to learning new things and what it means to be a civil servant.” I am eternally grateful to all who have given me the opportunity to serve in this position.
Students interested in applying for the SMART Scholarship can contact National Scholarship Office for help.
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