'STEM kid' roots grow from family tree – raised by Soldiers, college freshman works alongside Army's premier medical developers during MHSRS
At the intersection of military medical technology development, academia, and industry sits the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity. No other venue gives so bright a spotlight on that convergence than the recent Military Health System Research Symposium, hosted by the Defense Health Agency each year in Kissimmee, Florida.
MHSRS is a forum to bring together professionals from three distinct yet connected worlds to share ideas, drive synchronization of efforts, and build cross-organizational relationships. As attendees gathered to tour, network and learn, they may have noticed a novel and perhaps curious sight for such an august exhibition featuring medical technologies under development for America's Warfighters: 18-year-old college freshman, Kavan Paul.
In the midst of some 3,500 or more service members, academic professionals, and medical industry leaders, a fresh-faced and friendly "STEM Kid" stood alongside the best in U.S. Army medical development, showing the world what medical devices, treatments and technologies are in the pipeline today to help the Warfighters of tomorrow.
Kavan's route to MHSRS was a circuitous one, not surprising for the child of two career Army officers, Col. Johnny and Lt. Col. Dawn Paul. Brought to MHSRS to learn more about Army medicine and its relation to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields, Kavan may be a novice when it comes to military medical development, but he is no stranger to the military lifestyle or the sacrifices military children make.
"I was born in Tampa, Florida and I was raised there for the first few years of my life, but military children, we move a lot," said Kavan, listing Germany, Atlanta and San Antonio as places he lived while his parents served. "And now I'm going to the University of Central Florida College of Engineering and Computer Science."
His first passion was medicine, according to Dawn, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and activated Reservist with the U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency, but that gave way to a keen interest in computers and technology around the beginning of Kavan's high school career at the Fort Sam Houston Unified School District.
Noticing a disparity of technology-based youth activities, he conceived, pitched, and founded a grant-based eSports club, starting with less than a dozen students in 2019. By the time Kavan graduated earlier this year, the club had grown to more than 50 members – evidence of his self-drive and desire to give back to the community, according to his parents.
"John's been in [the Army] 34 years, I've been in 26, and we've always been around it," said Dawn. "So that's what Kavan knows, and he appreciates those in military service. I think seeing both parents working to serve others, that obviously has impacted him. He has a true appreciation for having the ability to serve your country. I think that he has a different perspective. To him, it's not about having to do it, it's wanting to do it. I think that's just who Kavan is."
During MHSRS, Kavan assisted the USAMMDA team by staffing a technology table and interacting with symposium attendees. While not a member or official representative of the military, Kavan took the opportunity to listen and learn about the array of technologies and treatments being developed by USAMMDA and its partners in the Department of Defense and industry.
"I've learned a lot about the Military Health System community, and it's really tight-knit, I think," said Kavan, who is entering his first year of college focusing on cybersecurity. "And that's great because there's really a sense of community and professionalism between all the organizations here. MHSRS makes me more well-rounded, and it provides me personal experience from professionals. They've dedicated their life to this work and it's just amazing to see the talent and the passion from them and to have that understanding before I even start a career is amazing and I can spread that to other students in my institution."
According to Johnny, director of the Fielded Force Integration Directorate with the U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, Kavan has always had an eye toward the future and has an innate ability to create opportunities for himself and those around him.
"He's always been a forward thinker, in that he will reach out to organizations that don't normally [offer internships] and create opportunities," said Johnny. "Which I think is great because many times we in the military don't think about doing this sort of stuff, but we need to start doing that because we need to build our future leaders and develop our future workforce, so I think MHSRS is a great way to do that. I think we have to look at multiple lines of effort as far as recruiting for our civilian workforce and recruiting for our uniformed workforce. I think it is a great effort."
For Kavan, on the cusp of a career focused on cybersecurity and internet-based technologies, the crossover between military medicine and computer systems is clear. MHSRS helped bring possible future career paths into sharper focus seeing the importance of internet technologies in medical development.
"Even though the profession that I'm studying isn't medicine, I'm studying cybersecurity, it still applies," said Kavan, who is considering military service as a real possibility after graduation. "Even here there are software engineers and IT people that I've networked with, and it's just a great opportunity all around. They kind of introduced me to the importance of IT to the medical development field, because there are software engineers for medical devices within the military community, and that kind of showed me another avenue I can take."
For the experienced USAMMDA team members, MHSRS is an exciting annual event. The dividends are continued growth of U.S. Army medical capabilities, as evidenced by yearly product development milestones and greater support of U.S. Warfighters in the Joint Force. Kavan's first-of-a-kind participation in USAMMDA's efforts during MHSRS may point to greater opportunities for inclusion of students pursuing careers in technology and medical development, according to U.S. Army Col. Andy Nuce, commander of USAMMDA.
"It was a great honor to have Kavan take part in our efforts during MHSRS and show a little of what our team does each day. Opportunities like this can help inspire contemporary technology and health care-oriented students toward a career in military medical development," said Nuce. "Having Kavan here was a great way to show how we can mentor the young men and women who will one day take the reins after we have retired. I hope Kavan's experience will inspire similar initiatives of outreach to driven college-age students to show them a possible career path that has a huge payoff for America's Warfighters. I'm personally grateful to Kavan for giving up a week of his summer to help us out, and I expect great things of him in the coming years."