JUN 6, 2023

AIRC Adds Three Fellows to Expert Roster

The Acquisition Innovation Research Center (AIRC) is pleased to announce three new experts to its roster of AIRC Fellows: Ms. Tory Cuff, Ms. Karen DaPonte Thornton, and Mr. John Willison. The three will contribute research and operational guidance to significant initiatives where AIRC is involved, notably the pilot of the Defense Civilian Training Corps (DCTC) and supporting the Commission on Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) Reform. 

“AIRC Fellows are leaders in the acquisition community,” said AIRC Executive Director Dr. Dinesh Verma. “They interact with extensive networks of partners in government, industry, and academia. They produce some of our most impactful research, advocate for AIRC in notable publications and at major conferences, and open doors to new projects and opportunities.” 

Thornton is a director on the Procurement Round Table and teaches at the George Washington University Law School. She previously served as counsel on the Committee on Armed Services for the House of Representatives, where she successfully negotiated hundreds of provisions in the annual National Defense Authorization Act.  

Thornton earned a B.A. in political science from Providence College, where she was a three-year ROTC scholarship recipient. She earned a J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center and began her legal career as an Army JAG officer and procurement attorney in the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Army Corps of Engineers. 

Thornton will play a key role in DCTC, a new Congressionally mandated program AIRC is piloting to award scholarships, specialized courses, internships, and other opportunities for students to prepare for civilian careers in the Department of Defense (DoD). “Joining AIRC as a Research Fellow is a tremendous opportunity to collaborate with experts across academic disciplines and within the DoD,” Thornton said. “AIRC’s role in facilitating the launch of the Defense Civilian Training Corps is transformative, and the work we do will ensure the Department has the talent it needs to ensure the strength and resilience of our national security.” 

Cuff supports the Office of the Secretary of Defense with research involving the PPBE Commission, workforce initiatives, and acquisition management policies and practices. She is the Chief Growth Officer at Sagely, a company that works with individuals and organizations to upskill and reskill in technology.  

Cuff was the Senior Advisor for Agile Acquisition for the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, where she led the Single Appropriation Pilot for Software and Digital Technology. She played a leading role in building the Air Force’s Kessel Run software factory, where she pioneered ways to deliver software to classified networks. At Clemson University, Cuff earned a B.A. in actuarial science and applied mathematics, with a minor in business administration, and an M.S in applied mathematics. 

With AIRC, Cuff will emphasize workforce development. “Working as an AIRC Fellow allows me to support this incredible and necessary mission with a focus on how to improve processes, champion successes, and provide a voice to the difficulties individuals and teams can face,” she said. “At the same time, I am very fortunate to collaborate with top minds in academia that bring a unique perspective and insight to drive innovative ideas and solutions.” 

Willison is an expert in strategic planning, innovation and reform, and talent management. He retired in 2022 after 36 years as an Army civilian, the last 11 years among the Senior Executive Service. He served as the Deputy to the Commanding General of the Army Futures Command, Combat Capabilities Development Command. Previously, he served in a range of leadership and technical positions in Army organizations spanning research and development, acquisition, and sustainment. 

Willison earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Lafayette College and completed the Senior Executive Fellows program at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. He received the Presidential Rank Award, the Department of the Army Superior Civilian Service Medal, the Army Infantry Association’s Order of St. Maurice, the Wilbur B. Payne Award for Excellence in Analysis, the Federal 100 Award, and the Federal Technology Leadership Award. 

Like Thornton and Cuff, Willison is eager to collaborate with the AIRC research network. “After having served almost four decades as an Army civilian, I very much appreciate the opportunity to continue to serve in a new capacity,” Willison said. “I have been thoroughly impressed with the AIRC team, and I am particularly excited to lead strategic partnerships in support of the critically important DCTC initiative.” 

Read bios of these experts on the AIRC Fellows page, and follow AIRC on LinkedIn for regular updates on acquisition innovation.