"I focus on understanding the role of technology and data within nonprofit organizations and the ways these tools can either further push people away, or lift up and support them."
As the first person in my family to attend college, I really had no idea what to expect or what to look for in a college. I became convinced that the right path for me was a professional career in information security, a field that I worked in for several years after completing my undergraduate degree at Rochester Institute of Technology. I enjoyed it–especially at first–but over time I realized that I had a lot of broader questions about the world that I wouldn’t be able to answer in that profession. In particular, I had a lot of questions about social justice and why the world was, from my perspective, such a cold and unsupportive place for people who were already pushed to the margins.
I did what I thought would be the best way to learn about the world by putting my technology skills to use in a nonprofit organization in Chicago, where I was living at the time. While employed there, I began learning about research by working with our organization’s research and evaluation department, as well as our housing department. I began using data from our organization’s databases to help answer questions, and I finally began to understand why research was such a powerful–and especially, personally rewarding–endeavor.
I originally decided to attend CU Boulder for my master’s degree because of the Information & Communications Technology for Development (ICTD) program at ATLAS. It is the only graduate degree of its kind in the US, and it brought together my background in technology with my goal of doing social good. Over the course of that program, I met amazing people all over campus who saw something in me that I did not see in myself at the time: the potential to be a good researcher. When I expressed an interest in learning more about research, Leysia Palen (computer science/information science) took me under her wing and helped me get started. Once I began, I knew I couldn’t stop because I loved it so much. She connected me with Amy Voida (ATLAS affiliate faculty member, information science) who is now my advisor, and I can’t imagine working anywhere else, with anyone else.
In some ways, I didn’t decide to go to CU Boulder for my PhD as much as CU decided to adopt me into an incredibly supportive and intellectually stimulating community that I feel privileged and proud to be a part of every day.
Ever since then, I’ve become enamored with the research process and the prospect of working to understand big and socially important questions as a profession–a job that you can actually get paid to do! In essence, my research focus reflects an evolution of my personal identity, where I now focus on understanding the role of technology and data within nonprofit organizations, and the ways that these tools can either further push people away, or can lift up and support them.
The interdisciplinarity of CU Boulder, while sometimes challenging, is by far the best part. While the institution overall can sometimes seem overwhelmingly large, I have a subcommunity of people that have supported me over the years. In a graduate program especially, your interests will shift and grow in amazing ways, and so it is essential to be in a place that can grow and flex with you.