Robert Hinson, USAF, Lt Gen (ret)

NSRI Executive Director
Robert Hinson

Robert (Bob) Hinson serves as the founding executive director of the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska. He joined the NSRI on August 1, 2012, after serving for nine years as vice president of government programs and corporate lead executive at Northrop Grumman Corp.

Prior to joining Northrop Grumman, Hinson served 33 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant General in September 2003. Prior to his retirement, he was vice commander of Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. Other key assignments included serving as deputy commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.; commander, 14th Air Force at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.; director of operations, Air Force Space Command, Peterson AFB, Colo.; commander, 45th Space Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.; commander of the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.; and chief of the Strategic Nuclear Policy Branch on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon. Hinson is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours, primarily in B-52, FB-111 and B-1 bomber aircraft. Hinson has numerous awards and decorations.

Hinson received a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Tennessee and a master’s in humanities and education from Arkansas State University. He also completed the Program for Senior Officials in National Security at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

William Charlton, Ph.d.

Research Director
William Charlton

Dr. William Charlton serves as Research Director for Nuclear Programs, a paramount position to furthering research solutions for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction at the University of Nebraska, for U.S. Strategic Command, the Department of Defense and the nation.

Prior to joining the NSRI, Dr. Charlton served as the founding Director of the Nuclear Security Science & Policy Institute at Texas A&M University since 2006. He was also a faculty member in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at TAMU, since 2003. An expert in the area of nuclear nonproliferation research and education, Dr. Charlton also served as an Assistant Professor in the Nuclear and Radiation Engineering Program at the University of Texas at Austin from 2000-2003. From 1998-2000, Dr. Charlton was a Technical Staff Member in the Nonproliferation and International Security Division at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). 

He remains heavily involved with many of the National Laboratories including: consultation on nuclear material safeguards and national security projects, providing graduate and undergraduate students for summer programs and new hires, collaborating with laboratory staff on various funded research projects, and helping to provide continuing education opportunities for laboratory employees. He teaches courses which study the technical aspects of nuclear nonproliferation, safeguards, and nuclear security as well as fundamentals of nuclear engineering. 

Dr. Charlton earned a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering from Texas A&M University. Among his many awards, Dr. Charlton was named the George Armistead Jr. '23 Faculty Fellow at TAMU in 2005, was awarded the Dwight Look College of Engineering Faculty Fellow in 2007, was recognized as the Advisor of the Year by the TAMU Division of Student Affairs in 2009, earned the Special Service Award from the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management in 2010, and was named the Barbara and Ralph Cox ’53 Faculty Fellow for the TAMU College of Engineering in 2013. He has over 200 technical publications in referred journals and conference proceedings.

Marty Sikes

Director for Global Health Security and Strategic Engagement
Marty Sikes

Mr. Marty Sikes serves as the Director for Global Health Security and Strategic Engagement, providing guidance for NSRI’s strategic engagements and initiatives in support of Global Health Security and Force Health Protection. Mr. Sikes also serves as NSRI’s on-site lead with the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense (JPEO-CBD), providing consultation to senior leaders and program managers with strategic planning, integration, and synchronization of the JPEO Chemical and Biological Defense portfolio.

Prior to joining the NSRI, Sikes served 13 years as a member of the Principal Professional Staff at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL).  Sikes has an extensive background working with Department of Defense (DoD), U.S. Government Inter agencies, and International Partners; integrating and evaluating Chemical and Biological Defense Technologies, Biosurveillance, and Information Management systems used for situational awareness and reporting of All Hazard Health incidents.  During his tenure at JHU/APL, Mr. Sikes lead a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, engineers, and public health and safety professionals supporting a multitude of Chemical and Biological Defense and Health Security focused projects for DoD, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other federal, state, and local agencies.  Mr. Sikes is a retired U.S. Navy Medical Service Corps Officer with specializations in Public Health and Disaster Preparedness planning and operations.  During his 22 years on active duty service he served in a variety of positions leading Force Health Protection, Environmental Health, and All Hazard Preparedness and Response Programs.

Dillan Cunningham

Director, Special Projects
Dillan Cunningham

Mr. Dillan J. Cunningham serves as Director of Special Projects. He provides Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) operating standards, strategies, equipment, education, etc. to teams of laboratory technicians and Ph.D. level researchers for research in laboratory environments.  Cunningham’s leadership in CBRNE prevention, protection and response facilitates the development and testing of counter-biological weapons technology.

Cunningham comes to the NSRI from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and prior to that, served as a Non-Commissioned Officer attached to the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in the 1st Area Medical Laboratory (AML) and 520th Theater Army Medical Laboratory (TAML).  During his time in the Army, Cunningham specialized in the field identification of biological warfare agents, analyzing thousands of samples in both a deployed field environment (during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq), and in a stationary laboratory environment (Operation Noble Eagle at USAMRIID).  His recent work includes the combination of multiple biological threat products and intelligence community inputs to provide a consolidated view of biological threat, providing observation and assessment of biological defense assets during multiple theater wide multinational military training exercises (South Korea 2007-present), and studies of biodiversity in ambient biological aerosol.

April Shea, M.S.

Project Manager, Special Projects

As the Project Manager of Special Projects, April Shea provides direct oversight and leadership of project operations in both BSL-2 and BSL-3 laboratory environments.  She also provides support for project development activities and contract award processes. 

Prior to joining the NSRI, April spent nearly a decade at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in the Diagnostic Systems Division (DSD) where she was a research microbiologist serving as the Technical Manager for the Unified Culture Collection (UCC), as well as a Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) Suite Supervisor and CDC Biological Select Agents and Toxins (BSAT) Inventory Designee.  April’s role in the UCC afforded her extensive experience working with biothreat agents in high containment laboratories.  Although she has experience working with all of the bacterial biothreat agents, her most recent work focused heavily on Burkholderia pseudomallei, the causative agent of Melioidosis.  During the Ebola crisis she provided biological safety expertise in the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and assisted in the program of instruction and training at USAMRIID for USAMRIID personnel deploying for Operation United Assistance.  In addition, she completed the Field Identification of Biological Warfare Agents (FIBWA) course during her time at USAMRIID.   April also worked at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) for four years, serving as a Project Manager in the Division of Microbiology.  Her primary role at AFIP was preparing BSL-2 and BSL-3 microorganisms and subsequently collecting signature spectra in support of the Raman Chemical Imaging and Biothreat Detection (RCIBD) program.

April holds a Master of Science in Microbiology and Immunology from Georgetown University, a Bachelor of Science in Forensic and Investigative Science from West Virginia University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from West Virginia University. 

Wes Carter

Director of Field Operations and Training
Wes Carter

Mr. Gary “Wes” Carter serves as Director of Field Operations and Training and leads the NSRI All Hazards Response Training (AHRT) program.  AHRT offers Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) training scenarios across nationwide & international sites inside real-world, operational facilities.  Carter's expertise in National Level Exercises (NLEs) guides the counter-WMD preparedness practices of government agencies, law enforcement, public health and first responder personnel. 

Carter comes to the NSRI as a Training and Foreign Operations expert, specializing in Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and has worked extensively in austere settings, worldwide.  Carter formerly served as Chief of Emergency Management for United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) and Director of a Counterterrorism Training Program.  He was the primary official responsible for actionable events and coordinator of emergency response teams.  Carter brings extensive deployment experience from over 20 countries for disease investigation and outbreak response. His experience in real world response to outbreak investigation and emergency operations ranges from national support during the Amerithrax investigation, to the Ebola crisis.  After 20 years of federal service, Carter moved into the private sector and served as a Senior Science Advisor for MRI Global, an independent, not-for-profit organization that performs contract research for government and industry.  Carter supported a variety of projects in a technical services consulting group for governmental and nongovernmental clients.  He directed technical support to projects related to biosafety, counterterrorism, weapons of mass destruction response, outbreak response, foreign operations, threat assessments, disease surveillance, training, laboratory design and high threat operations.

Daniel Polanski

Deputy Director of Field Operations and Training
Dan Polanski

Mr. Daniel Polanski serves as Deputy Director of Field Operations and Training.  Polanski brings extensive experience in U.S. government agency security, tactical and firearms instruction, military and Civil Support Team expertise.  As a subject matter expert, Polanski co-directs the NSRI All Hazards Response Training (AHRT) program, offering Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) training scenarios across nationwide & international sites inside real-world, operational facilities.  Polanski’s precision in National Level Exercises (NLEs) guide the counter-WMD preparedness practices of government agencies, law enforcement, public health and first responder personnel.

Polanski comes to the NSRI as the former State of Georgia Department of Public Health Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Coordinator for Emergency Preparedness and Response.  As the WMD Coordinator, Polanski was the primary contact for all coordination pertaining to any Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and/or Nuclear (CBRN) events within the State of Georgia.  He was responsible for integration of state CBRN operational capabilities into local, federal and Department of Defense (DoD) plans, exercises, and operations.  He also served as a liaison to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Joint Terrorism Task Force and as the State’s counterpart to the FBI’s WMD Coordinator.

Laura Nolan

Director for Cyber Programs and Exercises

Ms. Laura Nolan is the Director for Cyber Programs and Exercises, defending Counter WMD systems and protecting against cyber attacks that cause widespread and severe effects to the nation. Nolan’s leadership is in cutting-edge software development, systems integration, and cyber operations research with a focus in threat intelligence, cyber exercises, and support to operational cyber missions.

Prior to joining NSRI, Nolan spent fifteen years at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL), supporting the Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, federal and state governments, and critical infrastructure. Nolan has extensive experience in systems engineering, cyber operations, adversary threat modeling, cyber-physical system simulation, and security assessments. She integrates real-world operational users with the research community to further innovate and refine capabilities for the nation’s cyber forces. Nolan has an M.S. in Applied and Computational Mathematics from the Johns Hopkins University and she has planned and participated in table-top exercises and technical exercises for research, testing, and training of the National Cyber Mission Forces.

Jim Taylor

Senior Research Engineer

Jim Taylor serves as the Senior Research Engineer for the National Strategic Research Institute and leads research teams in developing internal capabilities for the Institute.  Since joining the University of Nebraska in 2012, Jim has served as a Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator on many task order projects for NSRI.  Jim brings 20 years of active duty U.S. Air Force developmental engineering experience to the NSRI team, having retired in 2012 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  While serving, he was selected as a member of the Defense Acquisition Corps and earned Acquisition Professional Development Program Level III certification in Systems Planning, Research, Development, and Engineering.  Jim holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech and a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Christopher G. Warner

Research Coordinator
Chris Warner

Chris Warner is a Research Coordinator for the National Strategic Research Institute. He leads the development of new and additional relationships to expand the Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD)-focused task orders awarded to the NSRI. This UARC concentrates on five core research competencies in support of the United States Strategic Command, the Department of Defense and other agencies.

John Tencer, MBA

Director of Business Operations
John Tencer

John Tencer serves as the director of contracts for the National Strategic Research Institute. Prior to joining NSRI, he served in the U.S. Navy Supply Corps, retiring at the rank of Commander in October 2012. While serving, he was selected as a member of the Defense Acquisition Corps and earned Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act Level III certification in contracting. He holds a MBA from Georgetown University.

Tess Kuenstling, Ph.d., Mba, pmp

Contract & Project Coordinator
Tess Kuenstling

Tess Kuenstling is the Contract & Project Coordinator for the National Strategic Research Institute. Tess is actively involved with contract management, finance, project management, and editing of technical proposals. Tess holds a PhD in Microbiology and Pathology from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and a MBA from the University of Nebraska Omaha.

Marsha Morien, MSBA, FHFMA, FACHE

Director of Research Compliance

Marsha Morien serves as Director of Research Compliance for the National Strategic Research Institute and the Export Control Compliance Officer for the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).  She holds appointments in Business & Finance and the College of Public Health at UNMC.  She was program director for the university-wide Center for Biosecurity.  She has been responsible for coordinating projects involving health information exchange and minimally invasive surgical technologies for the CDC, DoD and NASA.  She is co-chair of the EHealth Council for the State of Nebraska.

Anna Ravnholdt

Facility Security Officer
Anna Ravnholdt

Anna Ravnholdt has been the facility security officer (FSO) for the National Strategic Research Institute since its inception in October 2012. As the FSO, Ravnholdt has overall accountability for design, coordination, oversight, and implementation of NSRI’s security programs. Ravnholdt is certified through the Defense Security Service in the FSO Program Management for Possessing facilities.

Stephanie Smith

Executive Assistant
Stephanie Smith

Stephanie Smith serves as the Executive Assistant to the Director of NSRI, facilitates coordination for all customer, sponsor, staff, and researcher interactions, reviews, coordinates and formats every NSRI Proposal, manages calendar of events for the Director and staff, directs internal and external connections for research collaboration and work statement development, manages and documents a master copy of all contracts correspondence related to NSRI Task Orders. Prior to joining NSRI, she served as the Executive Assistant to the Northrop Grumman Corporate Lead Executive in Nebraska.

Michelle Jensen

Executive Assistant

Ms. Michelle Jensen serves as the Executive Assistant and Project Coordinator for the NSRI National Capital Region (NCR) Office, a satellite location in the U.S. Capital region scheduled to open in fall, 2016.  She is responsible for senior administrative support and project management in areas of DoD research requirements, government relations, marketing, communications, event planning, scheduling high level meetings and economic development efforts.

Ms. Jensen comes to the NSRI after serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force as an Intelligence Analyst and Operator.  She worked directly with Cyber Command, Signals Intelligence, Space Systems and Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) research operations.  Before retiring in May 2015, she held the positions of the Commander's Executive Assistant and Unit Enlisted Superintendent.

Featured Researchers

Ken Bayles, Ph.D.


Kenneth Bayles, Associate Vice Chancellor for Basic Science Research and Professor of Pathology and Microbiology at UNMC, is working to develop a more effective vaccine for anthrax that could be used in the field in the event of a bioterrorism attack. His two-year project supports six employees.

“The NSRI has allowed me to expand my research to include more translational research – research that could apply to finding cures for diseases, vaccine development, and development of antidotes. It could directly benefit individuals who will be exposed to biodefense agents,” Bayles said. “UNMC is ideally suited for this type of research because we have the secure laboratory space, expertise and experience for the development of improved countermeasures against chemical and biological weapons.”

Gina Ligon, Ph.D.


Gina Scott Ligon, Associate Professor of Management and Director of Research on Violent Extremism for the Center for Collaboration Science at UNO, is among NSRI’s researchers examining collaboration as it relates to National Security. She has had funding via NSRI since 2013, and she was named the NSRI Research Leader of 2015.

“Working with NSRI has afforded my research lab resources and visibility,” Ligon said. “Our projects have funded graduate and undergraduate students and inspired careers for them in National Security and Intelligence research, giving them opportunities to present in Washington DC to high level government decision makers.”

Don Umstadter, Ph.D.


Don Umstadter, Leland J. & Dorothy H. Olson Chair in Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics in UNL’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, is among NSRI’s researchers pioneering the development of highpeak-power lasers, laser-driven electron accelerators, and x-ray light sources. His multi-year project has developed a new technology for detection of shielded nuclear material (esp. high-enriched uranium).

“Our laboratory has unique tools and expertise for developing novel capabilities to detect remote and shielded threats to national defense and security. These technologies let us now ‘see’ what was before ‘hidden.’ NSRI helps us to connect our basic and applied research solutions with the ever-changing problems facing the nation and the world,” Umstadter said.

Board of Directors

Carl V. Mauney

Carl V. Mauney

Chairman of the Board

U.S. Navy Vice Admiral (Ret)

Roosevelt Mercer Jr.

Roosevelt “Ted” Mercer Jr.


Air Force Maj. Gen. (Ret)

Honorable Benjamin “Ben” Nelson

Honorable Benjamin “Ben” Nelson

Senator for Nebraska – 2001-2013

Gary Gates

Gary Gates

Past President and CEO

Omaha Public Power District

Jennifer Larsen

Jennifer Larsen, MD

Vice Chancellor for Research

University of Nebraska Medical Center

Scott Snyder, Ph.D.

Scott Snyder, Ph.D.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Creative Activity

University of Nebraska at Omaha

Joel D. Pedersen, J.D.

Joel D. Pedersen, J.D.

Secretary and General Counsel to the Board

Vice President and General Counsel University of Nebraska

David E. Lechner

David E. Lechner

Treasurer to the Board

Senior Vice President for Business and Finance University of Nebraska


Steve Goddard, Ph.D.

Interim Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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