Central Florida native John Bittman has had an unconventional journey to the University of Central Florida and now the trip has just taken an unexpected turn.

Just months before completing UCF’s Nanotechnology Professional Science Master’s degree program, and what Bittman had hoped would be the final planning for a business launch, the federal government has selected Bittman for a prestigious program that will guarantee him a mid-level federal job for the next two years.

“I can’t believe it,” he said about his selection. “I was looking for work in the future. I almost missed the deadline and now I’m getting ready to find out where I’ll be placed come the summer.”

More than 6,000 students applied for the Presidential Management Fellowship operated by the Office of Personnel Management . About 400 were selected based on their education level, experience, testing and essay submission. Only six people were selected from Florida and Bittman is the only one from UCF.

The fellows will get to apply for federal positions that take advantage of their expertise whether it be biomedical science and nanotechnology – like Bittman’s – or human rights, cultural affairs or economics. Fellows will be in placed in agencies such as the FBI, NASA, Centers for Disease Control, FDA, NOAA, FEMA, U.S. Secret Service, NSF and countless others based in Washington, D.C., and across the nation.

Bittman said the educational experience he’s had from his days in the Army to Valencia College to UCF has been invaluable in preparing him for this opportunity.

The Lake Mary High School graduate enlisted and spent four years in the Army serving in the airborne infantry, which included a deployment to Iraq.

During that time, he kept thinking about going back to school. So, he took online courses while in the service. When he left the service in 2013, he finished his AA degree at Valencia in one semester and used DirectConnect to UCF to transfer to the university. He completed his Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on biomedical studies and entrepreneurship. Then he applied to the nanotechnology program.

The program, although only three years, old has a 100 percent success rate. All of those who have completed the program have landed internships and jobs in industry, including Ocean Optics in Winter Park, GeNO LLC in Cocoa, Akron Biotech in Boca Raton, and Accenture in Austin, Texas, among other companies.

“Nanotechnology is an exciting, emerging field that takes quite a bit of specialization,” said Qun Huo, the master’s program coordinator. “We have outstanding faculty and a NanoScience Technology Center, which gives our students a unique opportunity to learn by doing with leaders in the field and in partnership with industry.”

That’s been true for Bittman. He’s been working in Associate Professor Swadeshmukul Santra’s lab developing new materials at the nano/microscale level that may aid in eradicating agricultural diseases that destroy crops. The team also looks for ways these materials could apply to the field of medicine.

“I’ve gotten a first-hand look at how UCF is trying to fix a big problem in our state,” said the 31-year-old. “It’s an amazing opportunity. I have always been interested doing some kind of business in the biomedical field. ut I’ve kind of had an untraditional path, so it’s taking me a little while. But you have to go with opportunities when they happen.”

For now, Bittman is working on completing his program and doing some research about the many federal agencies he would like to work for this summer.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “It wasn’t part of a plan and totally unexpected. I’m not sure where I’ll be after I graduate in the summer. But I’m eager for the next adventure.”