Paul Brenner: Building a Service Career

Paul Brenner: Building a Service Career

Paul Brenner in Afghanistan
Paul Brenner in Afghanistan

Paul Brenner, a 1998 Notre Dame graduate, joined the Air Force ROTC program at the University while studying engineering as an undergraduate. During his senior year, he had to decide: go on active duty or stay in the reserves and continue his education. He chose the latter. Since making that decision 24 years ago, Brenner has been on multiple deployments around the world. From 2008 to 2009, he designed and built air force bases in Afghanistan. Upon his return to the United States, he helped build the Computer Research Center at Notre Dame, where he is currently Senior Associate Director and Professor of Practice.

With a small but mighty staff of 50, the Center for Research Computing at Notre Dame is supporting $27 million in funding for research in advanced computer science, computational biology, cybersecurity, data science, software and systems engineering and in artificial intelligence.

Brenner expanded his expertise to include cybersecurity and cyberinfrastructure, which led to new opportunities with the US Air Force. Brenner is now a Reserve Advisor with the USAF’s Air Education and Training Command, providing cybersecurity and cyberinfrastructure training for America’s largest educational organization – all as part of a career serving the country. , the community and the classroom. Below is a Q&A with Brenner.

What does service mean to you?

I think it’s serving something bigger than yourself. Having the conviction that there is something greater than our individual needs. Our Lady does that. We believe, by faith and by service to the world — to do good is often to do something selfless. I think there’s something selfless about saying, “OK, I’m ready to go follow orders and if need be, I’ll go to danger, because I appreciate where I am today. , I appreciate what I have been given, and I hope that our children and our neighbors and the rest of our democratic country will also have these opportunities.

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Do you see this message resonating with your students and Airmen?

Absolutely. I think in some ways it’s the students we attract and the students we develop. There’s a student body here that wants to give back, wants to leave the world a better place than it found it, wants to make sure everyone has a home, makes sure our cars are eco-efficient, and so on. … There is balance and prioritization – not just in any particular crisis but in all of our life decisions. They are able to say, “I can prioritize some basic necessities for myself, but after that, let’s serve our country and the community.” »

Many of our Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines today come from humble backgrounds, and working with these young men and women with very different life experiences and even struggles – I am inspired that they are always passionate about service and they are passionate about doing good. They are all looking to grow and succeed.

What aspects of your military service marked you?

Certainly, the leadership opportunity in terms of the number of young men and women we get to help in the defense of the nation. We manage to direct them and make them grow. Leadership in critical situations gave me lots of opportunities for growth. I am very grateful to the Ministry of Defense. I care about our country and I participate in the defense of our democratic institution.

Regarding my personal development, I learned to work and be productive within a massive organization. The Air Force gave me the opportunity to travel and meet people from all over the world. For the past five years alone I’ve delivered cybersecurity briefings for the Philippines Department of Defense, I’ve worked in Romania with some of their senior staff on NATO cyber collaborations , I trained allies in England in cyber mission analysis and supported the management of our nuclear infrastructure.

How would you compare experiences in the military to campus?

There are absolutely parallels. An example would be, you know, when we were in Afghanistan, there were times when an individual, an airman could feel isolated. They live in a plywood hut, they don’t have as much communication with their family. They feel isolated from each other. So your role is to help them be there and be productive.

And then years later I had students here during COVID facing similar issues. We couldn’t go out and see each other as much. People felt isolated. People couldn’t communicate. Their normality was gone. Helping people through these moments of abnormality is one example. It was certainly very helpful on both sides of the equation.

Harvesting the Brenner Afghanistan

Starting out at ROTC as an undergrad, did you imagine the path your career would take?

I am very grateful for this path. I think the right path for me has always been to feel like I’m doing a service for the betterment of the community. There are many ways to do this. For me, it was faith that moved me to say, I will continue to try to serve in the capacities presented to me. I have certain things that I feel like I’m good at, that I find interesting – STEM and technology has always been that for me.

To provide service in your career path, you look at your skill set. You work hard. My skills leaned towards technique. The doors were open to serve in the military, to come back and serve at Notre Dame, to build the Center for Research Computing – to use technology to help all the great discoveries that Notre Dame is trying to make, whether it’s Whether it’s next generation energy sources or medical breakthroughs or even the study of theological and philosophical texts. I kept those doors open and balanced those opportunities with my family. I tend to say – God, family, country, Our Lady.

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