Courtesy of AFOSR
Former student Dr Shery Welsh (Doctorate, Materials Science, 2014) was selected as the 2021 Alumni of Achievement Award winner for the College of Science at the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH), which is part of the University of Alabama system.
Dr Welsh is the Director of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), part of the Air Force Research Laboratory, where she heads the Global Basic Research Department of the Air Force. The alumnus manages a team of 200 scientists, engineers and administrators in Arlington, Virginia, as well as international offices in London, UK, Tokyo, Japan, Santiago, Chile, Melbourne, Australia and soon to Sao Palo, Brazil. She oversees a portfolio of basic research investments of nearly $ 500 million per year to facilitate the transition of the resulting discoveries to other components of the Air Force Department’s Air Force Research Laboratory. , defense industries and other components of the Department of Defense.
“We travel the world and do an exceptional job of finding this high-risk, highly profitable research and engineering principal investigators in universities around the world and small businesses in the United States,” says Dr. Welsh. “We imagine and create in a universe where no idea is too crazy for us to consider. This universe contains high risk and high reward research and this is where we get the most benefit for our fighters. “
AFOSR’s annual investment in basic research is distributed among around 300 academic institutions around the world, as well as 100 industrial contracts and more than 250 AFRL internal research efforts. These efforts aim to discover cutting-edge technologies for the benefit of defense projects and missions.
“We call these investments ‘discovery’ because science thrives where it needs to grow, and this produces groundbreaking discoveries such as healing wounds five times faster in the field, understanding the phenomena of a painting so white that it could one day cool a building or learn the biological makeup of evil beetles and mantis shrimp to create materials capable of withstanding incredible operational environments (forces, temperature, etc.), ”notes Dr. Welsh. “All of this and more provides capabilities not only to our fighters, but also to the general public around the world. “
The UAH alumnus has accumulated 35 years of DoD experience as a federal employee for the Department of Air Force and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). In her previous role, she held the position of Director, Science and Technology, for MDA, where she researched cutting-edge technologies from around the world within industry, DoD and National Laboratories to advance technologies. peak.
“We are certainly responding to demand signals from the Air Force and the Space Force, but a prospect called ‘scientific push’ is the real magic AFOSR is able to cast for the Department,” said Dr. Welsh. Science push allows my Scientists and Engineers (M&E) to forecast and invest in areas that the Air Force Department doesn’t even know they’ll need in the future. ”
Other assignments she has served with the Missile Defense Agency include Chief Airborne Laser Program Engineer, Director of Targets and Countermeasures Requirements, Chief Scientist of the Center for knowledge of interceptors and the chief engineer of the advanced technology program office. Dr. Welsh’s 20 years of work for the Air Force has allowed him to work on many essential programs, such as C-130U Gunship, C-17, Joint Strike Fighter, F-16, the B-2, the F-22, the airborne laser. and the Large Body Aerial Sensors Platform.
“I wasn’t in the S&T world for very long before I got to this post, but my last post at the Missile Defense Agency as S&T Director and my doctoral research at the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Huntsville are definitely the keys. to my success, ”she notes. “These experiences had a great impact on my life in general, and I will always be grateful. “
Dr Welsh has been in her current role for just over a year and a half, and it didn’t take long for her to feel comfortable in her new role as she struggles to meet needs. strategies that extend even in space. .
“We have moved into our new home and love the area,” she says. “Virginia is beautiful! And I love working in the city of Arlington. It has been an interesting year, but the work is everything I had hoped it would be and more. The mission of my organization is to discover, shape and defend basic research that has a profound impact on future air and space forces. We do this globally with five strategically placed international locations. Our goal is to provide complex battlefields that create a strategic advantage for our future fighters and a technological surprise for our adversaries. As China continues to increase its investments in S&T, we have had to find more creative ways to work with less to maintain our advantage. My scientists and engineers, as well as my administrators, are rock stars who unleash science against our adversaries!
Working under the pandemic conditions proved to be a challenge, but it did not slow down his willingness to take on the vital responsibilities of his post.
“I have postponed a lot of travel due to COVID-19 in an effort to keep our people and others safe,” said Dr Welsh. “I spend half of my day in high-level meetings focused on initiatives and programs to increase our influence and impact, as well as discussing internal and external issues. These range from the organizational level to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) level of the Biden administration.
“The rest of my day is spent in strategic thinking and meeting regularly with key people from the Department of Defense (DoD) to include other agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). I have regular contact with my counterparts in the Army and Navy, as well as with non-DoD organizations like NASA and the National Science Foundation. It’s all about collaborations and partnerships. This is where the United States and our global partners excel. The S&T ecosystem we have built expands around the world and we continue to grow our global footprint. “
Dr Welsh and his team have devised a number of tactics to creatively sidestep the constraints of COVID-19 on a daily basis.
“If you’ve ever listened to or read Simon Sinek [British-American author and inspirational speaker], he talks about all the little things you lose when you’re not physically together as a team. And it is certainly true. However, our IT has been amazing, so connecting through various online platforms has been a lifeline. I had the chance to see my parents through these platforms and get to know them. I have set up quite a few places so that my parents have direct access to me since we are only part-time at the office at best. I’m a huge fan of Marvel and Star Trek so we run monthly MARVELous Open Mic sessions, Discovery chats, branch breaks, an anonymous digital feedback box, AFMC Connect sessions to have honest and open conversations. with our team members about how they feel. and what they are doing to tackle issues related to a pandemic. “
As for where she sees herself in the future, she feels that she has already arrived at the destination she has been aiming for from the start.
“I am exactly where I am supposed to be!” I have loved all the jobs that I have had in my 35+ years, and they have all led me to this place and this organization, and I have never been happier. This organization is amazing, so for the first time in my life I’m not looking beyond this job. My husband is really my rock. He gave up his career years ago to follow me across the country, so you don’t have a better cheerleader than this.
Dr. Welsh has won two MDA Rising Star and Air Force Engineer of the Year awards.