Serving with SMART: Mathematics student gives back thanks to Department of Defense scholarship

Serving with SMART

Serving others is a guiding value for Lily Levrault. She regularly volunteers through UWM’s Honors College, and she serves as a teacher for the Girls Who Code Program. And after she graduates, Levrault will have a full-time job serving her country.

Levrault is a SMART scholar, one of a handful of students across the country who was awarded a Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) scholarship by the U.S. Department of Defense. The award supports students majoring in STEM fields by paying full tuition, giving annual stipends, placing students in government internships, and guaranteeing a full-time job with the Department of Defense after graduation.

Of course, Levrault is grateful for the opportunities and monies she’s been granted, but there’s a deeper meaning behind her scholarship. She’s carrying on a family tradition.

“My grandfathers were both in the Air Force,” she said. “(This) is a similar sort of service, but without necessarily being in the military. So, there’s definitely pride that, hey, I’m doing this too.”

A SMART scholar

Levrault is an Illinois native and grew up on the Missouri border. For high school, however, she attended the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) in the suburbs of Chicago, pursuing her passion for numbers.

“I already had an interest in actuarial science, and at IMSA I started learning computer science and coding. Those were the two majors I was looking at while looking at colleges,” she said.

UWM had both, and her language of choice to boot. Levrault is double-majoring in actuarial science and applied mathematics and computer science, alongside a minor in Russian.

She applied for the SMART scholarship during her freshman year and has been enjoying the benefits ever since, including two summer internships. Levrault spent this past summer in Springfield, Virginia, interning with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).

“I was a data scientist, basically working on the automation of repetitive tasks – data monitoring without needing a human to check on it every hour,” Levrault explained.

The NGA collects and analyzes geospatial intelligence data – think weather reports, aerial and satellite photography, maps, and more – to support the United States’ national security and that of its allies.

Naturally, that’s a lot of data. It’s a big world, and analysts can’t watch everywhere at once. In particular, Levrault was charged with automating processes that collected data about radio signals, heat signatures, infrared, and other signals. She instructed her code to send an alert to an analyst any time those measurements saw a significant change, so the analyst did not have to constantly monitor those signals.

“I worked with a good team,” Levrault said. “There was a poster fair at the end of the summer where we (she and a fellow intern) got to present our project to a lot of different people and be the expert (to) these people who have worked at the NGA for years. That has a sense of pride to it.”

Service close to home

At UWM, Levrault is still giving back. This semester, she worked as a mentor with the program Girls Who Code, which teaches the fundamentals of computer coding to middle and high school girls. Once a week, Levrault taught her students the basics of Arduino, which uses a single-board microcontroller to control digital devices.

Levrault is thankful that she began learning to code in high school and that she’s been able to continue her computer science education at UWM. So, she said, it feels important for her to give other girls those same opportunities.

“If they don’t know about (coding) now, they’re not likely to try and study it later on. That exposure is necessary in order to get more girls into tech and computer science fields,” she said.

On top of that, Levrault volunteers with the UWM Honors College, and even spent last Spring Break in New Orleans doing service projects. Giving back has always been an important part of her life.

“Growing up, it’s just something that we do,” she said with a shrug.

Thanks to her SMART scholarship, Levrault has a guaranteed job after she graduates this coming spring. She’s been invited back to her team at the NGA, and she hopes to work out of the agency’s St. Louis office so she can be close to home as she serves her country.