Frankie Torbor

DOD SMART Scholar Leverages Master’s Degree for Career Pivot

Pursuing a master’s degree while working full time is not always easy to do. And landing a prestigious scholarship after enrollment can be challenging. However, for Frankie Torbor, his ambitions helped him land a SMART Scholarship with the Department of Defense, all while attending evening classes at the University of St. Thomas School of Engineering and juggling a day job in housing.

The DOD’s Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship-for-Service Program is a combined educational and workforce development opportunity for STEM students with a minimum 3.0 GPA. It awards full tuition, a stipend and guaranteed employment with the DOD after graduation.

Torbor, who recently completed his first year in the Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering program at St. Thomas while working full time as a project manager in the housing sector, is excited about the scholarship. Combined with his master’s degree, the scholarship will open doors to a dream job in mechanical engineering.

Frankie Torbor
Frankie Torbor

“The scholarship alleviates the financial burden of my degree and provides me with valuable opportunities, including an internship and guaranteed employment,” he said. “These benefits are instrumental in kick-starting my career in mechanical engineering.”

Torbor currently works as a senior planning analyst for Hennepin County, doing lead-based paint inspections and radon measurements. He aims to transition into a more technical project management role at a mechanical engineering firm. The convenient evening and online class schedules for St. Thomas engineering graduate programs allowed him to continue working while taking further steps toward his goal.

“My goal is to align what I have learned in the past with what I am currently learning in mechanical engineering. It’s a good opportunity to mesh my interests,” he said.

Torbor, who served in the National Guard, was awarded the DOD’s SMART Scholarship at the beginning of his master’s program for his exceptional experiences. His letters of recommendation from professors aided in illustrating his accomplishments and personality while in the program.

My goal is to align what I have learned in the past with what I am currently learning in mechanical engineering.”

Frankie Torbor '25 MS

“Frankie is a very atypical engineering graduate student as he doesn’t have a previous formal engineering background,” said Dr. Brittany Nelson-Cheeseman, associate professor and director, materials science and engineering at St. Thomas. “Nevertheless, he has committed to making a huge pivot into mechanical engineering from his previous area of focus. In my Materials Engineering graduate class, Frankie was an exceptionally hard worker. He was very engaged and always posted very thorough and well-researched assignments that clearly demonstrated his commitment to this new area of focus.”

After receiving an undergraduate degree in city planning, Torbor began working in the housing arena. He started as a property manager at a nonprofit and then transitioned to the development side, focusing on developing more low-income housing units across the Twin Cities before landing his role as an inspector for Hennepin County.

In summer 2025, Torbor will have an internship at the Naval Surface Welfare Center in Port Hueneme, California, through the SMART program. This will be an opportunity for him to grow and expand his skills, while also being guaranteed an entry-level position after graduation, he said.

The SMART program aims to increase the number of civilian scientists and engineers working at DoD laboratories.

Torbor expressed his gratitude for the St. Thomas Engineering program, emphasizing its suitability for working adults and its focus on practical, career-relevant skills.

“Classes are small, and it seems like classes are trying to focus more on things you need to know to get to a field rather than extra electives that maybe an undergraduate program would have,” he said.