REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (Aug. 8, 2022) - Alabama … Texas … Virginia … Paris, France?
While that last one may be a surprise, all are locations where U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center team members support the Army mission.
Dr. Kelly Risko is one DEVCOM AvMC team member with an enviable posting. Stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Paris since February 2020, while the timing of her arrival in France wasn’t ideal – thank you, COVID-19 – the scenery and mission has made up for it. More than beautiful architecture and amazing cuisine, Risko has the unique opportunity to serve as the AvMC representative to the Army’s international partners – with the benefit of being in their time zone.
“I serve as the science advisor for aviation and missile technologies for DEVCOM Atlantic,” Risko said. “I am AvMC’s European, Middle Eastern and African eyes and ears for all technology that we feel could be applied in the Aviation & Missile Center. So I am kind of a relationship builder. I am looking for technologies that I can link up to subject matter experts within the Center.”
Risko, who hails from Houston, Texas, started her engineering career journey at a small liberal arts college outside of Dallas.
“My degree is in math and physics, not what you would think of in terms of a liberal arts degree,” she said. “But it was a full ride and I said, ‘By hook or by crook, I am going to get to an engineering school.’ So I finished up in three years and then went to Auburn to work on my master’s in electrical engineering.”
Afterwards, she pursued a doctorate at Virginia Tech. While there, Risko was approached by colleagues from Auburn, who told her about a job opportunity at AvMC in the Image and Signal Processing Branch of what is now the Technology Development Directorate. Risko landed the job and during that time was involved in multiple international programs and found that she had an affinity for the work.
Which is why when the job posting in Paris landed in her inbox, “It was like, this is perfect, was this job written for me?” Risko said with a laugh. “This is exactly how I can contribute and be of benefit.”
Risko and her young family moved to Paris, she started her new job … and one week later was sent home with a laptop. COVID-19 had come to France.
“For two years, I could not do one major aspect of my job which is going out, meeting people and making connections internationally,” she said. “Teams can be great for seeing people and communicating but there are still those intangibles that you cannot get over a Teams call – bonding over a side conversation at a dinner.”
Now that restrictions have been lifted, Risko has found herself busier than ever. She recently hosted the Center’s director when he attended a conference in Paris to brief its international audience on the Center’s science and technology strategy. And with borders open again, Risko is often traveling now to build those in-person connections.
“We don’t want to be technologically surprised if there is something out there different or better than the way we are doing it,” she said. “I am always on the lookout for those types of things. To do that, I go to trade shows, conferences, workshops, industry and then a lot of it is meeting academics – touring facilities, campuses and receiving briefings that I then send back to the Center. I try to highlight and pinpoint people who I think may be interesting to see if what they are doing is revolutionary, something we are already doing or maybe they have a different approach to how we are doing it.”
It might seem like a once-in-a-lifetime job, but Risko wants to share with the young aspiring engineers that opportunities like hers are out there and available.
“Get involved in anything international if it presents itself to you,” she shared. “The Defense Acquisition University has great courses that lay the groundwork for when you start engaging.
“But the other thing is putting yourself out there and not being afraid to show that you are willing to take on a challenge no matter what it is, step up and take that risk. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone.”
The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.