Brookdale Community College student Andrea Valentino discovered an excellent opportunity while participating in a hackathon. During the event, (a social coding event that brings computer programmers together to improve upon or build a new software program), Valentino, a first-year student, learned about the Department of Defense’s Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship Program. The SMART scholarship provides funding for students pursuing degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields, allowing them to gain hands-on experience with the Department of Defense as part of their education. Valentino is excited to pursue this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and expand her skills in the field of technology.

“I am thrilled to have discovered the SMART Scholarship Program. With this program, I can continue to develop my skills and contribute to meaningful research with the Department of Defense, and I cannot wait to see where this opportunity takes me.”

The Department of Defense SMART scholarship will cover her college costs for the next three years and support her in the summer of 2024 at her internship at the Maryland Proving Grounds. In addition, she will have a job upon graduation in the Department of Defense.

“This is a highly competitive process,” said Dr. Susan Monroe, associate professor of Mathematics at Brookdale.

Valentino was accepted to Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH, last year but could not afford college, so she came to Brookdale through the NJ Stars program and applied for the Scholarship. She now has acceptances at several colleges including Emory University, Atlanta GA.

Her favorite part about Brookdale is the professors, especially Dr. Monroe, who she said “is super encouraging both in the classroom and the WEST (Women in Engineering Science and Technology) club meetings.” Valentino is also Vice President of the Computer Science Club.

“My goal is to increase the number of women represented in computer science and use technology to improve educational outcomes and equity for students across the world,” said Valentino.

In fourth grade, Valentino discovered a passion for innovation and creating things. For her science class project, they had to build a dollhouse and create lighting for every room.

“I began formulating ideas about how to tinker with the wires and circuits to illuminate my doll house. After some trial and error, I had established working lights in all the rooms, she said. “A wave of satisfaction immediately washed over me.”

This passion grew in middle school when she was introduced to 3D printing and programming. Throughout high school, she participated in academic technology competitions and worked as a coding instructor at Code Ninjas, where she created a club to empower girls in technology.

“Code Ninjas has led me to pursue an interest in using technology to help improve educational outcomes and equity of students worldwide, Valentino said. “I do this by creating free educational videos reviewing introductory computer science topics and providing links to free online coding resources.”

Valentino has been proactive in advancing her education in the field, having completed every available computer science course that pertains to Python and JavaScript. She has also gained hands-on experience with specialized machines like Raspberry Pi and enrolled in online programs that concentrate on cybersecurity, software engineering, and user-experience design.

She is interested in cybersecurity and hopes to further explore that with the Department of Defense.

“I want a career where I know my work would make a positive influence within the world,” she said. “Working for the Department of Defense would allow me to accelerate my intellectual and technical abilities, while also allowing me to proudly serve my nation.”


Cybersecurity at Brookdale 

Brookdale is one of New Jersey’s two community colleges to hold the NSA/Department of Homeland Security designation as a National Center of Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. This distinction demonstrates Brookdale’s rigorous academic program in cyber security and its real-world experience in preparing students for careers in a high-growth industry. Visit Brookdale’s website for more information about Network Technology and Cybersecurity.

About NJ Stars
NJ STARS program is an initiative created by the State of New Jersey that provides New Jersey’s highest achieving students with free tuition at their home county colleges. New Jersey residents who rank in the top 15.0% of their class at the end of either the junior or senior year of high school may be eligible to receive an NJ STARS award for attendance at their home county college.