Elements of Success

February 19, 2021

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Buffalo, NY - Kristen M. Kulinowski ’90, PhD, has always explored the possibilities life presents to her.

After earning a scholarship to Canisius College, the West Seneca, NY native started out in a combined bio-psychology program. But sophomore year, she turned her attention to chemistry and discovered the elements on which she would build a diverse career in the sciences.

“I met with Professor Joseph Bieron, PhD, about becoming a chemistry major and he welcomed me with open arms,” Kulinowski recalls. “I wanted a career that would have a positive impact on the world – studying in the Chemistry Department at Canisius was the catalyst that helped nurture that ideal.”

Kulinowski is director of the Science and Technology Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., one of three Federally Funded Research and Development Centers operated by the Institute for Defense Analyses.  She leads more than 40 researchers in providing analysis of national and international technology issues for government agencies including the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Such technology issues include the federal response to the global pandemic, the role of the national laboratories in fostering technological innovation, addressing barriers students face in pursuing education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and sending humans to Mars.

Kulinowski’s most recent role is the culmination of a career spent largely on the frontlines. 

After graduating in the All-College Honors program with a degree in chemistry, Kulinowski continued her studies at the University of Rochester where she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees in chemistry.

While in Rochester, Kulinowski volunteered with the American Red Cross emergency services and served on national response teams for Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and the Great Mississippi River Flood in 1993. She later began teaching Red Cross volunteers emergency response tactics and disaster relief interventions. Those experiences, combined with her doctoral work, would shape her career.

In early September 2001, Kulinowski was selected as a Congressional Science and Technology Policy Fellow, a program that sends scientists to D.C. to learn first-hand about federal policymaking, while using their knowledge and skills to address today’s most pressing societal challenges.

Then the September 11 terrorist attacks hit.

As a long-time volunteer with the Red Cross, Kulinowski traveled to the Pentagon on 9-11 to support first responders on the scene following the attack.

“We provided meals for the firefighters and others working at the site,” she says. “While I was there, it aligned with a recurring theme in my career of disaster preparedness.”

Following 9-11, she played a key role as a Policy Fellow in developing language on domestic nuclear preparedness, resulting in passage of the 2002 Bioterrorism Act, which directs government responses to protect the public from threatened or actual terrorist attacks. 

That work, as well as nearly a decade of work on the risks of engineered nanoparticles at Rice University, led to an appointment as a Board Member of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).  Kulinowski spent nearly five years at the federal agency investigating major chemical industrial accidents and making recommendations to help prevent future incidents. She then became director at the Science and Technology Policy Institute.

Currently residing in Maryland with her husband and two children, Kulinowski says of all her career accomplishments, she is most proud of staying true to herself and her ideal of having an impact.

 “My advice to students is to figure out what they care most about and stay true to their goals. A broad liberal arts education at Canisius College helped plant those seeds for me.”