Visions Across America: Kory Budlong Sylvester

Written by Carole Gieseke – Chief Communications Officer, Iowa State University Alumni Association

Photography by Jim Heemstra

173f2608Just when you’re in total awe of the accomplishments of Kory Budlong Sylvester (’92 nuclear engineering), the program manager for Nonproliferation and Treaty Verification at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, his youngest son, Syler, takes you down a notch.

“Dad isn’t that interesting,” announces Syler, age 11.

Ah, youth. It’s not surprising that Syler – and, likely, his 14-year-old brother, Max – don’t understand what their father does for a living. It’s difficult for many adults to grasp. The scope is just so BIG.

In his role at Los Alamo National Laboratory, Kory is responsible for managing a portfolio that includes technical support for international safeguards, export controls, arms control verification, and global engagement programs.

This includes the Laboratory’s work in the Next Generation Safeguards Initiative, the International Nonproliferation Export Control Program, warhead dismantlement and transparency efforts, and support for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization.

He’s also the U.S. member of an advisory group for the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. He travels to Washington, D.C., at least once a month and spends much of his time in Vienna, Austria.

And that’s just what he does now.

He’s also been a congressional fellow to the Committee on Appropriations for the U.S. Senate, a senior technical advisor at the National Nuclear Security Administration, and a congressional fellow to the Committee on Homeland Security for the U.S. House of Representatives. He holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from MIT.

“Our work requires in-depth understanding of international security. A key part of my job is to know what Washington needs and help them find solutions to their problems,” he says.

And here’s the really funny thing: You would never in a million years get that Kory works on issues critical to the security of the United States of America by sitting down and talking to him over a cup of coffee on his deck overlooking Pueblo Canyon.

“He’s humble,” his wife, Susan, says. Kory and Susan (’86 journalism/mass communication) met at Iowa State when she was his supervisor in the Honors Program.

“I got him when he was young and moldable,” she says, laughing. By outward appearances, the two could not be more different.

“On our honeymoon, I had a John Grisham book on the beach and he had, I don’t know, a book on differential equations or the creation of the atom or something. He is geek to the bone.”

Kory chuckles but gets back to the business at hand: nuclear nonproliferation.

“We take our jobs seriously here,” he says. “National security is a fundamental mission for the Lab, and I work with an incredibly competent and dedicated group of experts. It’s a sober responsibility to see that nuclear weapons are never used again. We’ve had some difficult years struggling with proliferation challenges, and we like to think we’re part of the solution.”

The story was written as part of the ISU Alumni Association’s 3-year VISIONS Across America project and first appeared here.