Neel Kashkari’s resume includes aerospace engineering, investment banking and being a key adviser to U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

Now the 35-year-old University of Illinois graduate and Ohio native has been selected to manage the government’s historic $700 billion bailout, deciding how the Treasury will buy heaps of distressed assets from banks and restore confidence in the country’s financial system. Kashkari’s position still needs Senate confirmation and there are no guarantees he’ll be able to keep his job under the next president.

Here’s a snapshot of his swift ascent to one of the most critical roles in the government’s rescue plan:

Kashkari earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

As a graduate student, he was the team leader for the mechanical engineering component of a solar-powered car the school entered in the 1997 Sunrayce, a solar-powered vehicle race from Indiana to Colorado. About 30 to 40 U of I students – most of them undergraduates – were involved, said Professor Emeritus Robert White, who was Kashkari’s adviser in the graduate program. The team built an aerodynamic vehicle weighing less than 600 pounds whose top was covered with solar cells.

“He dealt well with students as the team leader,” White said. He said Kashkari had already stood out as an undergraduate in the engineering department.

“I felt he had leadership qualities and the right drive that was going to be needed,” White said.

Kashkari started his career in Redondo Beach, Calif., at TRW Inc., a NASA contractor that was later acquired by Northrop Grumman.

He was a principal investigator in the company’s research and development division and worked on the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope that is scheduled to launch in 2013. Kashkari’s former supervisor told The Associated Press that one of his contributions was helping make a latch that would hold the telescope together while in orbit.

“As an engineer, what I loved about it is I was solving problems … that no one had ever even tried before,” Kashkari told the AP. “When you think about the credit crisis, we’re trying to tackle challenges. Maybe they’ve come about in the past in different forms, but the situation today is by definition unique. So we’re bringing all of our analytical skills to bear to try to solve this.”

After working at TRW, Kashkari enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School to get his MBA in finance.

“The whole idea was to combine engineering with finance,” Kashkari’s father, Chaman Kashkari, told his hometown paper, the Stow Sentry in Stow, Ohio.

In February 2002, shortly before graduating from Wharton, Kashkari joined 100 students for an eight-hour, intensive leadership training exercise.

The students traveled an hour to Fort Dix, N.J., where they used the U.S. Army’s “battle lab” to run a computer simulation of a one-day cease fire in Bosnia. The participants were split into 14 teams with varying missions and had to rescue 300 refugees caught in crossfire.

During the simulation, four Army officers were behind the scenes “pulling the levers to constantly upset the apple cart” by suddenly introducing groups of insurgents or other obstacles as the students navigated the rescue convoy through the war zone, said Wharton Professor Michael Useem, who ran the exercise.

The leadership training puts a premium on making fast decisions under pressure that “require the cooperation of a range of stakeholders who have very different stakes,” Useem said.

“Neel Kashkari, in his new office, is going to be facing that. There will be huge pressures on him coming from Congress, the White House and the Fed. … As Neel gets going, there’s a road map he’s got to follow. But there’s going to be suddenly new hostile forces out there who are pressuring him or lobbying him.”

After graduating from Wharton in 2002, Kashkari joined the San Francisco office of Goldman Sachs as an investment banker. Paulson was chairman and chief executive at the time. Kashkari told a Senate committee in June that he advised both domestic and overseas companies on financing and mergers and acquisitions.

In July 2006, Kashkari left Goldman Sachs to become one of Paulson’s senior advisers at the Treasury. His policy work included energy security, as he helped develop President George W. Bush’s Twenty In Ten energy plan, shorthand for the administration’s goal to cut U.S. gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next decade.

Kashkari told the Senate committee he was also “spearheading our response to the housing crisis.” He played a leadership role in the Hope Now Alliance, a collection of public and private sector groups that the Treasury formed last year to provide counseling to homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

Kashkari became the Treasury’s assistant secretary for international economics and development in July. David McCormick, who oversaw Kashkari as undersecretary for international affairs, told National Public Radio that his report is “a very quick study … very bright, very organized and very analytic – all prerequisites to doing the kind of triage and making the kind of choices he’s going to have to make.”

Kashkari’s parents, Chaman and Sheila, are immigrants from Kashmir. His father is a retired engineering professor at the University of Akron and his mother is a pathologist. His sister, Meera Kelley, is a physician.

Kashkari lives in Maryland with his wife, Minal, and a Newfoundland dog named Winslow after Kellen Winslow of the Cleveland Browns. Kashkari played football and wrestled in high school.

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