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New cyber development director grounded in research, mission

by Kashia Simmons
DISA Strategic Communication and Public Affairs

The new director of the Defense Information Systems Agency’s Cyber Development Directorate brings to bear the curiosity and focus of a researcher, the drive for the Department of Defense’s mission and a desire to give back.

Serena Chan, Ph.D., has spent much of her career as a researcher for federally funded research and development centers — a special category of non-profit think tanks funded by DoD to answer tough questions that inform defense policy.

"Serena brings a unique combination of exceptional technical talent and the inherent ability to link technical capabilities to key stakeholder requirements,” said Stuart Timerman, director, Development and Business Center. “This is an invaluable skill considering the growth and significance of DISA's mission, and we are very pleased to have her onboard.”

Chan said it is the combination of DISA’s technical mission and its direct operational support that drew her to the organization.

“DISA has a challenging portfolio, and I wanted the opportunity to provide technical leadership and direction over the development of cybersecurity strategies and network operations solutions,” she said.

Chan holds a doctorate in engineering systems from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was hired as a Scientific and Professional, a senior leader grade above the GS-15 level, but with an emphasis on engineering sciences. Her body of research spans advanced networking and communications, communications security and privacy, defense spectrum management cybersecurity and cyber mission assurance among several other related topics. She has authored numerous research papers and is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She is also a member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, Asian American Government Executives Network and Sigma Xi, the international honor society of science and engineering.

One of Chan’s proudest accomplishments is the research and analysis she conducted on supply chain risk management in support of DoD policy and procedures for mission assurance.

“This was all about integrating intelligence and systems security engineering into the acquisition process for major weapon systems,” Chan said.

Her research on Next Generation 911 provided support for a portion of the DoD Digital Modernization Strategy, released July 2019.

“We got language in for supporting national public safety broadband networks, enhancing enterprise mass warning and notification capabilities and also modernizing our 911 systems to meet NG911 standards,” she said. “It’s having a drive for supporting the mission and the kind of impact that we provide to the warfighter that really matters.”

Chan joined DISA in early Dec. 2019, and has spent her first month learning the lay of the land. She calls it her “listening tour.”

“I'm listening, learning and figuring out how I’m going to engage and eventually lead,” she said. “I'm very detail oriented by nature. I like to gather information from many difference sources to make the right decision,” she said. “Solving complex challenges requires both attention to detail and a big-picture perspective.”

Chan explained that the discipline of research is useful preparation for making good decisions because research is grounded in both theory and practice.

”It’s not either or,” she said. “Having a theory and experimenting to understand and prove it … you have to have a solid grasp of both for success. Research helps us to make intelligent and well-informed decisions.”

Ultimately, Chan said she wants to solve tough technical and policy challenges, work with good people, contribute to the mission and serve as a thought leader in her field.



Posted February 7, 2020