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The National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) hosted a Researcher Recognition event on Wednesday, Nov. 2, bringing together research scientists from across the University of Nebraska. The event, held at the Embassy Suites La Vista, recognized the accomplishments of researchers and others who have contributed to the success of the NSRI, a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) at the University of Nebraska.
NSRI Executive Director, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Hinson, gave the opening remarks and reflected on the growth of the newest UARC in the nation that was started in 2012.
“Lots of bumps in the road, lessons learned and growing pains in understanding and executing a process that involves two very diverse cultures: the University and its four separate campuses and the rules and regulations of the Department of Defense,” Hinson said. “Tonight we are here to recognize our research superstars, without whom none of our successes would have been possible. These researchers promote the research capabilities of the University of Nebraska and directly contribute to the missions supporting our national security and the readiness of our military personnel.”
“The NSRI UARC started with four base task order contracts in 2012 and this year we will have signed on more than 60 task orders, valued at over $42.5 million,” added Hinson.
Task orders are research contract awards from Department of Defense (DoD) sponsor agencies. NSRI receives funding from project sponsors through contracts with U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) USSSTRATCOM, as well as other contracts and grants to provide research solutions directly impacting DoD operations and national security in the areas of combatting weapons of mass destruction (CWMD).
Presenting awards along with Hinson were University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) Chancellor Jeffrey Gold, M.D. and University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Chancellor John Christenson, Ph.D.
A total of 35 awards were presented in six categories for recognition: NSRI Distinguished Scientist, NSRI Research Leadership, NSRI Exceptional Undergraduate Research Student, NSRI Exceptional Post-Doctoral Research, NSRI Team Excellence and NSRI Exceptional Contributor awards.
Dr. Dennis Alexander, Dr. Wally Buchholz and Dr. Jim Talmadge were awarded the NSRI Distinguished Scientist awards. The selection criteria for the NSRI Distinguished Scientist award is based on significance of research performed, performance feedback from research sponsors, repeat projects as a result of research findings and potential. Hinson remarked that the three awardees have repeatedly paved the way for the success of NSRI and NU in proving the value and potential of their work.
Dennis Alexander is the Kingery Professor of Electrical Engineering, the head of the Laser Science and Engineering Research (LaSER Lab), and the director of the Center for Electro-Optics and Functionalized Surfaces (CEFS), at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). Alexander’s NSRI research projects include laser-based remote detection techniques including femtosecond pump-probe techniques, the functionalization of metallic surfaces to achieve extraordinary surface properties through femtosecond laser surface processing techniques, and all-optical data networks. Hinson remarked that Alexander is an “exceptional scientist and mentor for this project and others contributing to the reputation of the university and directly supporting the DoD.”
Wally Buchholz is professor and director of the Biological Process Development Facility at UNL. His fundamental microbiology research program has focused on microbial adaptation and microbial forensics capabilities that are needed to investigate biological outbreaks, whether natural or nefarious. His research on the manufacture of recombinant ricin vaccine was one of NSRI’s early research projects and will continue for several years. Hinson specified that Buchholz was recently awarded a significant contract opportunity to assess cyberbiosecurity, while securing the emerging domain of biomanufacturing.
Jim Talmandge is professor in Pathology and Microbiology at UNMC and a nationally recognized expert in bacteriology and veterinary pathology. Hinson indicated that throughout his career, Talmadge has focused on immune pathologic interactions and therapeutic interventions in chronic disease states emphasizing neoplasia, inflammation, and infectious diseases. Most recently, his laboratory has focused on the development, manufacture, and delivery of cellular and gene therapeutics to patients. He is editor-in-chief of an immune-based journal and frequently participates in or chairs grant peer-review committees.
Dr. Doug Derrick was presented with the NSRI Research Leadership award.
“Derrick is always a champion for his colleagues and the many special capabilities they represent, always enthusiastic about his research and the contributions it can bring to the warfighter and always takes on responsibilities for mentoring new students and faculty in working the difficult problems,” said Hinson.
Derrick is a professor of management at UNO, director of research and development in the Center of Collaboration Science and co-director of the Commerce and Applied Behavior Lab in the College of Business. Derrick has been involved in several task order contracts with NSRI and USSTRATCOM. He is a program manager supporting the USSTRATCOM Strategic Leadership Fellows Program. Additionally, he has led the Advanced Collaboration Enterprises Services (ACES) program, used to support participants in National Level Exercises (NLE) across separate locations.
Part of the responsibilities of the NSRI as a UARC is to grow the next generation of research scientists to support the DoD and other agencies. Two student awards were presented, this year.
Mr. Gary Roth was presented with the NSRI Exceptional Undergraduate Research Student award. Roth is Pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in computer and information systems at UNO. Hinson stated he was instrumental in assisting with the creation of labs and hands-on exercises for an NSRI task order and educating USSTRATCOM personnel in security for industrial control systems.
Dr. Craig Zuhlke was presented with the NSRI Exceptional Post-Doctoral Research award. Zuhlke is a research assistant professor in electrical engineering at UNL who worked as a postdoctoral research associate for NSRI researcher, Dr. Dennis Alexander. Hinson remarked that Zuhlke has dedicated himself to conducting research on behalf of NSRI’s government sponsors and has demonstrated outstanding team leadership.
Presenting the NSRI Team Excellence award with Hinson were Mr. Todd Saylor, Chief of Workforce Development at USSTRATCOM, and Mr. Don Duralia, Deputy Chief of Workforce Development at USSTRATCOM. The award was presented to the USSTRATCOM Strategic Leadership Fellows Program for teamwork across NSRI collaborative efforts and support of the NSRI’s UARC sponsor, USSTRATCOM. Hinson stated that “it’s often a very real challenge to develop a very diverse team approach with so many superstars across the many disciplines of the University. This year we believe there can be no better example of true teamwork than that presented by the USSTRATCOM Strategic Leadership Fellows Program.”
The cross-discipline, cross-campus program supports the academic progression of the USSTRATCOM civilian workforce.
The USSTRATCOM Strategic Leadership Fellows Program is led by a management team at the UNO College of Business including Dr. Gina Ligon and Dr. Doug Derrick, program leads; Dr. Chris Diller, lead instructor; Ms. Rebecca Lair, program coordinator; Mr. Caleb Steffensmeier and Mr. Michael Mazgaj, graduate assistants; Ms. Alicia Andry, assistant director of admissions and academic services; and Mr. David Nielsen, assistant dean.
Other USSTRATCOM fellows program team members receiving recognition included Dr. Mario Scalora, Dr. Pete Simi, Dr. Roni Reiter-Palmon, Dr. Patrick McNamafra, Dr. Joe Allen, Dr. Robin Gandhi, Dr. Matt Hale, Dr. Mark Scherer, Dr. Ann Fruhling, Dr. Erin Pelggenkuhle-Miles, Dr. Elizabeth Chalecki, Dr. Lynn Harland, Dr. Leif Lundmark, Dr. Erin Bass, Dr. Ramazan Kilinc, Dr. Jody Neathery-Castro, Dr. Lana Obradovic, Dr. Tatyana Novikov, Dr. Abhishek Parakh, Dr. Kerry Ward, Dr. Noel Palmer, Dr. Sharon Medcalf, and Mr. Kenneth Knotts.
Mr. Dillon Cunningham and Ms. Stephanie Smith were presented with the NSRI Exceptional Contributor awards.
Cunningham serves as Director of CBRNE Counterproliferation and Defeat at the NSRI, and is also program manager for one of NSRI’s largest contracts.
“Give him a task and he will tackle it with bulldoggish zeal,” said Hinson. “Cunningham has taken ownership of developing the NSRI’s new National Capital Region office and has done an exceptional job in creating a huge capability for the University and NSRI that will be second to none. He has taken on coordinating the lease and internal construction of a superb conference center capability for the new 19,000 square foot space that will allow us to conduct training and executive level exercises.”
Smith serves as executive assistant to NSRI Executive Director Robert Hinson. Hinson affirmed that Smith has been supporting the NSRI from the beginning and has taken on many responsibilities that resulted in breaking new ground in the management and execution of proposal editing and coordination with the university staff, USSTRATCOM program managers and the 55th Contracting Squadron.
“She has taken on other roles and responsibilities in executive support and coordination. She has voluntarily contributed to any task asked of her and worked countless hours supporting us all,” said Hinson.
In addition to research scientists from across the University of Nebraska, the NSRI Researcher Recognition event brought together NU leadership, NSRI leadership and support staff, as well as leaders from USSTRATCOM. It provided an opportunity for faculty experts and staff to network and discuss the future of NSRI and NU research.
Hinson closed by saying that the NSRI is “committed to being the advocate for researchers and their significance to combatting some of the most challenging threats to our warfighters. Your contributions to our national security cannot be understated.”
Founded in 2012, the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska is the only University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) in the country dedicated to delivering solutions for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) to U.S. Strategic Command and across other federal agencies. NSRI provides research and development for the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and other governmental agencies in multiple mission-critical competency areas — including development of medical countermeasures to WMD; nuclear detection and forensics; consequence management; chemical and biological weapons detection; and space, cyber, and telecom law. Learn more at nsri.nebraska.edu.