ISAT alum applies biotech skills to defense intelligence career


by Emma Seli ('23)

Kelly Davidhizar

After graduating from JMU in 2006, Kelly Davidhizar embarked on a global journey spanning destinations from Jordan to Israel to the United Kingdom and Australia. Currently, she is in the midst of a three-year tour with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Germany.

While at JMU, Davidhizar pursued a major in Integrated Science and Technology with a minor in Writing Rhetoric and Technical Communication. She was also a member of the Marching Royal Dukes. 

Davidhizar’s ISAT concentration in biotechnology led her to collaborate with ISAT professor Ronald Raab who worked with the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases on developing an effective plague vaccine.

“We were contracted with [USAMRIID] to clone, express and purify various genes to get proteins” for vaccine development, explained Raab.

Under Raab’s supervision, Davidhizar and Andrew Foulger (‘06) spent the summer researching potential candidates in the ISAT lab, experimenting with various proteins to facilitate the development of vaccines. The duo presented their research to the U.S. Army, which used their protein samples to formulate the next vaccine. 

“It was really cool to have a real-world project that mattered,” Davidhizar said.

Following this, she earned her Master of Science in biodefense and technology from George Mason University. She worked as a technical editor at an intelligence agency in D.C. before becoming an intelligence analyst in a biological scientist position with the Defense Intelligence Agency in Charlottesville, Virginia.

In Charlottesville, Davidhizar leveraged her WRTC skills as an analyst focusing on weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation analysis for 10 years.

Describing a notable experience as an analyst, Davidhizar explained, "I — with no notice — briefed the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Additionally, I briefed Congressional members and their staffs.” 

Currently stationed in Germany with the U.S. Africa Command, Davidhizar handles security cooperation in Africa, working with foreign governments to ensure the security and stability of Africa. Counterterrorism and humanitarian affairs are significant aspects of her job, enabling Africa Command to provide assistance to partner countries. She has also worked in the U.S. embassy in Jordan, enjoying her work with embassies worldwide.

The ISAT program significantly contributed to building the skill set necessary for her career, providing experience in biotechnology, technical expertise in bio topics, and relevant data-analytics skills gained from computer science courses.

“I didn't need to learn how to program, but it helped me think in terms of data management, and how to talk about structuring data and working with data,” Davidhizar said. 

She finds her current work “fascinating and impactful” and is settling into her position in Germany with the U.S. Africa Command. Considering the future, Davidhizar has many ideas, including becoming a coach with the DIA’s coaching program. She is also on the Executive Advisory Council for Women for Madison, which aims to enhance women’s philanthropy and provide scholarships for JMU students.

Learn more about JMU's ISAT major.

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Published: Friday, December 8, 2023

Last Updated: Friday, February 23, 2024

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