My Story: A Unique Career Path
With over two decades of multi-sector experience in military, education, federal policy, interactive media, and innovation R&D, my career has been dedicated to pioneering innovative approaches that profoundly impact policy and social outcomes.
Growing up in rural Appalachia, I developed a deep passion for helping individuals overcome barriers to success, particularly after my two sons were diagnosed with autism.
My career path has been anything but conventional. During graduate school, I delved into the intersection of children's hearing and embedding psychophysical tasks into computer games.
However, instead of pursuing a traditional postdoc, I chose an unconventional path and joined the Navy. As a Navy Captain and Aerospace Experimental Psychologist, I became focused on revolutionizing training, education, and psychological well-being through cutting-edge technology.
Navy Aerospace Experimental Psychologist Training
Throughout my military career, I served across various branches, sharing my knowledge at prestigious institutions like the U.S. Air Force Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), where I ascended to Associate Professor, specializing in psychology, leadership, and neuroscience.
While at NPS, I was also on the development team for the government's first significant serious game effort, the America's Army recruiting game. My work as a sound designer on the game was recognized as one of the best in the industry in 2001.
Subsequently, I played a vital role in developing numerous games and simulations designed for training and mental health applications. My expertise extended to harnessing the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs to foster innovation.
VR Therapy at USC ICT
DARPA SimSensei at USC ICT
While at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), I spearheaded groundbreaking initiatives utilizing AI and affective computing to tackle psychological health challenges head-on. Simultaneously, I crafted a highly successful program to revolutionize STEM games for children.
My military service saw me play a pivotal role in securing funding and leading the development of acclaimed programs in collaboration with Sesame Street, designed to support military children dealing with grief, separation, and parents facing injury. These programs continue to make a lasting impact and have garnered accolades, including an Emmy nomination and various prestigious awards for their exceptional content and production.
To get to these milestones, my career took some interesting turns:
Sesame Street Military Retirement Video
As a Program Officer at the Office of Naval Research (ONR), I managed an annual budget exceeding $45 million allocated for medical and human performance research.
During this time, I led the pioneering effort of establishing the first Department of Defense (DoD)-sponsored program dedicated to developing and researching the use of virtual reality in treating PTSD.
This initiative has since become widely adopted within the Veterans Administration. I was then assigned to the Defense Health Agency and my continuing efforts were instrumental in the establishment of the Department of Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, backed by a substantial congressional budget of $900 million.
I also played a vital role in the design and implementation of the Virtual Reality components within the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed, further enhancing the facility's capabilities and impact
U.S. Department of Education
After serving 22 years in the military, I embarked on a new journey by joining the Obama Administration as the Executive Director of STEM Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education, a political appointment.
In this capacity, I orchestrated STEM initiatives in close coordination with the White House and various federal agencies. I also took on a pivotal role in advocating for establishing an education equivalent to DARPA (ARPA-ED), recognizing the critical need for innovation in education.
Working with the White House, I co-chaired a federal committee coordinating efforts across serious games efforts in the federal government.
My tenure also emphasized promoting equitable access to high-quality STEM education for all and was mainly focused on early education issues. Working with the White House, I helped coordinate efforts across government, nonprofits, philanthropies, and industry.
Nonprofits & Philanthropies
As the Obama Administration concluded, I collaborated closely with major philanthropic organizations to adopt DARPA-inspired strategies, leading to the creation of the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF). This innovative fund was designed to address persistent teaching and learning challenges, particularly affecting students facing economic disparities."
Following the successful launch of the AERDF program, I assumed the role of Chief Scientific Officer at the American Psychological Association. In this capacity, I played a pivotal role in shaping federal policy to bolster research efforts and inform policymaking through rigorous evidence-based criteria while supporting science issues for the 118,000 members.
During my tenure, my team organized the Technology, Mind, and Society Conference, a groundbreaking event that delved into the convergence of behavioral science and technology, fostering valuable discussions and insights.
San Diego Comic-Con Panel on STEM Comics
Technology Mind and Society Conference
Russ Shilling interviews Kumar Garg
Continuing to Foster Impact
More recently, I've been providing strategic guidance on innovative research principles for philanthropic endeavors, including collaborations with influential organizations like the Gates Foundation to help provide a DARPA mindset to develop a Pre-K assessment program.
I am continuing to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning on their programs in education, training, and health.
I am also pleased to be a member of the Medical and Science Advisory Committee for Autism Speaks to help provide equitable opportunities for the neurodiverse community.
Working with the EdSafe AI Alliance, I have been part of the ongoing conversation on developing policies for the use of AI in education that both protect students and encourage innovation.
Throughout my career, my unwavering dedication has centered on leveraging technology to enhance the lives of individuals, particularly those navigating challenges.
With my extensive and diverse array of experiences, I am confident in my ability to introduce innovative and high-impact solutions to any organization or project.