The Charger Blog

Forensic Science Major is a Semifinalist for Prestigious STEM Scholarship

Ryleigh McDonagh ’26 applied to the Department of Defense Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship program hoping it could support her dream of becoming a forensic chemist. She’s now in the running for a scholarship that offers exciting opportunities such as employment upon graduation.

April 3, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Ryleigh McDonagh ’26 on campus.
Ryleigh McDonagh ’26 on campus.

When Ryleigh McDonagh ’26 first learned about the Department of Defense Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship program, she was intrigued. At the time, she was preparing to begin her first year as a college student, and she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to apply for it. But she was committed, and her efforts have, so far, paid off: McDonagh received an email notifying her that she is a semifinalist for the scholarship.

Ryleigh McDonagh ’26 on campus.
Ryleigh McDonagh ’26 on campus.

The DoD SMART Scholarship offers a variety of opportunities for college students in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, such as stipends, summer research internships, and employment placement at a DoD facility upon degree completion.

“This is a great scholarship to apply for, as it has plenty of benefits,” she said. “I am honored to have made it as a semifinalist. Making it this far is an amazing feeling. Once I got the email saying that I was a semifinalist, I knew all the work that I had put into this scholarship application had been worth it.”

For McDonagh, it wasn’t watching popular television shows depicting crime scene investigations that sparked her interest in forensic science. Rather, it was a chemistry class she took in high school – a class that, she says, she was initially nervous about taking – that led to her interest in forensic science. She was inspired to pursue a career as a forensic chemist, hoping to play an important role in helping to bring closure to families and to help give justice to victims.

“This scholarship could immensely help me achieve my career goals because I would be employed at the Department of Defense for at least five years right out of college, which would be incredible,” she said. “I would not have to worry about ‘what’s next?’ if I receive this scholarship. It would also give me the experience and knowledge that I need for the future. This job could be the first of many steps closer to achieving my long-term goal of becoming a forensic chemist.”

‘Have faith in yourself’
Ryleigh McDonagh ’26 before her high school graduation in Stillwater, NY.
Ryleigh McDonagh ’26 before her high school graduation in Stillwater, NY.

A member of the University’s Honors program, McDonagh says pushing herself to apply for the scholarship was good preparation for her time as a Charger. During her first year, she’s already enjoyed some great opportunities to learn more about her field, including visiting the FBI office in New Haven, and she’s taken advantage of a variety of opportunities to get out of her comfort zone.

“When I was younger, I was a very shy and reserved kid,” she explains. “But ever since I started my college journey at the University, I believe it truly helped me find who I am and enabled me to come out of my shell. I began to be very outgoing, and I pushed myself beyond the social barriers that I had created for myself. The University has formed me into the person I am today.”

Scholarship finalists will be announced later this month. Whether or not McDonagh is named a finalist, she already has achieved something she can be proud of.

“If you set your mind to something, the motivation will ultimately come from within to achieve your goal, so continue to have faith in yourself,” she said. “The amount of time and effort that you put into something, you will get ten times the reward.”