UH grad student earns Department of Defense fellowship

 University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa graduate student and Hawaiʻi EPSCoR ʻIke Wai research assistant has been awarded the Department of Defense (DoD) Science Mathematics and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship-for-ServiceTed Brennis is pursuing his master’s degree in Earth and planetary science.

“It’s a really cool fellowship and I’m really excited about it,” said Brennis.

The SMART program supports scholars in leading STEM fields that are in high demand by the U.S. government. SMART Scholars work within DoD labs and agencies that include Army, Navy and Air Force sponsor facilities, which impact national security and support the warfighter. Scholarship winners receive full tuition, monthly stipends, health insurance, book allowances and summer internships.

two people checking rain collector
Ted Brennis, left works with Jeff Hesmbree of Koʻolau Mountain Watershed Partnership

Brennis, who is also a U.S. Army veteran, began his research with Hawaiʻi Institute of Geophysics and Planetology Associate Specialist Nicole Lautze. Lautze, who leads the ʻIke Wai geochemistry team, recruited Brennis to work on analyzing precipitation and spring samples on Oʻahu.

“I love [fieldwork]. I lucked out,” said Brennis. “Now I get to go out and collect data that is relevant and needed for a lot of water managers.”

Brennis manages 17 rain collectors across Oʻahu, including remote locations such as Kaʻala, the highest peak on the island. Collecting samples can involve 10-hour days with an 11-mile hike out and back from where precipitation collectors are located. Brennis who describes those kinds of days in the field as grueling, also admits that seeing the data that results from the collection is satisfying.

Incorporating data science

Brennis in a holicoper waving shaka
Ted Brennis travels by helicopter with KMWP to a remote area of Koʻolau mountains to service collector.

Hailing from Fayetteville, N.C., Brennis completed undergraduate studies at UH Mānoa following his military service. Brennis says data science is one of his favorite parts of research. He names School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology Professor Neil Frazier as a mentor and attributes some of the knowledge he gained in scientific programming as a factor in being a competitive candidate for the scholarship.

“I use it in every class and every lab…it helps to visualize data and understand trends,” said Brennis.

The SMART Scholarship supports Brennis throughout the remainder of his graduate program. In addition, Brennis will complete a summer internship as a part of the SMART program, as well as serve as a federal employee upon completion of his degree.

As a husband and father, Brennis is focused on taking care of his family, completing his degree and is looking forward to learning more as an environmental scientist. He also looks forward to supporting the U.S. military’s mission and being a good custodian of the environment.

—By Maria Dumanlang