There are no military veterans in Paul Davis’ family. And yet, he works to protect United States warfighters.
His mother didn’t grow up in the United States. And yet, she often proclaimed it the best country on earth.
“My grandfather once visited from Holland during the Fourth of July, and the American national anthem was playing, causing him to start weeping,” Davis shared. “I then learned that he heard that same anthem when his hometown was liberated from the Nazis."
Not many of Davis’ peers throughout his education shared his interest in pursuing work with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). And yet, Davis has committed more than five years to this pursuit.
Davis, an associate professor of biology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, leads several projects through the National Strategic Research Institute (NSRI) at the University of Nebraska (NU) for customers throughout the DoD.
Carrying the University-Affiliated Research Center (UARC) designation for the University, NSRI is a trusted-agent of the federal government. It is one of only 14 UARCs in the country, and the only one with a specific focus on research and development solutions for complex national security requirements to combat weapons of mass destruction.
With its nationally prestigious UARC designation, which is sponsored by U.S. Strategic Command, NSRI can expedite the timeline of identification of need to contract. Responsiveness is key to assisting DoD customers, and NSRI and NU are well-positioned and well-versed.
One of the technologies Davis is developing — with significant contributions from 14 graduate and undergraduate research assistants — will protect U.S warfighters and the nation.
“I have long recognized the significant need for this type of research,” said Davis, whose expertise includes molecular and cellular biology as well as tropical medicine, parasitology and microbiology. “We have a need to protect ourselves from s threats, natural or otherwise, and if I can contribute to that, I feel a great sense of purpose in doing so."
Beyond the innovative solutions he and his team offer directly to defense customers, Davis contributes to one of the leading national security challenges of our time — workforce development.
Inspiring students to enter STEM fields and go on to careers working in or with the DoD or other national security agencies should remain a priority for the University of Nebraska, Davis said.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center continues to grow, as demonstrated by the recently announced NExT project. The Global Center of Health Security, an NSRI partner, continues to be called upon for leading biosecurity research and solutions. And, as a state, Nebraska is well-positioned to contribute to agricultural security research, Davis said.
NU students can access all of these opportunities throughout the next decade and quite possibly do so from Nebraska throughout their careers.
Faculty play a critical role in this workforce solution. By engaging with NSRI, they can create real-world experiences for students to help them prepare for jobs of the future.
Austin Sanford, a third-year graduate student at UNMC, who works with Davis, is just one example.
“My work has focused on a singular project that has moved forward in the past year to hopefully aid the war fighter,” Sanford said. “I have learned components of DoD research that I would not have experienced if I was a traditional graduate student.
“I am currently aiming for a postdoc position at a national lab. If I wasn't in this program, I probably wouldn't have thought of this career option."
Realizing potential is not new to Davis, and he has found a partner in NSRI.
"One of the biggest threats to our future security is the lack of STEM-trained American scientists and engineers," Davis said. "Through NSRI, we are providing students incredible opportunities to explore and understand government-related research while building their credentials. This is an essential talent pipeline that NU has the capacity to fill.”
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About the National Strategic Research Institute
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 (USSTRATCOM) 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.