Alexandra Corbett, a part-time data governance analyst at ITS, didn’t enter information technology the way you might expect. When she started, she was an undergraduate student studying philosophy and psychology.
“Funny enough, I came into the job through the philosophy department,” she said.
The undergraduate chair of the Department of Philosophy had forwarded to her an email from J. Michael Barker, Vice Chancellor of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer, who sought a technology solutions research assistant.
Barker, who himself holds a doctoral degree in philosophy, hired Corbett in February 2020. Barker wanted help with a project about making connections between ITS and other departments and schools at UNC-Chapel Hill. “He specifically wanted philosophy undergrads because he needed a person who was going to be doing a lot of critical thinking and structuring a new project from the ground up,” Corbett said. Barker’s aim was to have someone who had no preconceived notions with respect to information technology, the activities of units at the institution, nor the status of the relationship between ITS and those units.
A changing role
Once the pandemic struck, Corbett’s role changed because the needs of information technology changed. Many of her projects have been as needed, such as helping Barker with research by putting together compilations of information from different sources. In one project, she assisted Suzanne Cadwell, Director of ITS Educational Technologies, by researching learning management systems (LMS) and peer institutions’ ways of integrating those systems.
As she wrapped up the LMS project, Corbett transitioned into the role of data governance analyst and began working with the data governance team.
“Having someone dedicated to answering requests for data governance review has been a real help for people trying to buy IT products or get help with classification questions,” said Kim Stahl, Senior Policy and Process Lead for ITS. “Alexandra has a mind for complex rules and important details, and she’s always encouraging and welcoming to our customers.”
Corbett has trained on ServiceNow to coordinate requests for the Data Governance Oversight Group and is assisting on a policy equity remediation project, which deals with both digital accessibility and readability of policies.
“It’s taking something that can be really complicated and a little bit heady, and making it make sense to the community,” Corbett said.
It’s like what she did in philosophy club — make philosophy accessible to anyone. “Like you could walk in and not have taken a philosophy class ever, and everything would still make sense to you,” she said.
Corbett stayed at ITS even after earning her degree in part because she values the organizational aspect of her job. “A lot of the nature of the work involves taking information and reorganizing it in a way that’s going to make sense to someone who didn’t build the database or someone who doesn’t already understand the information,” she said. “I recently found out that I have ADHD and information processing difficulties, and I think for me, a lot of why I like doing this kind of thing is because I get to restructure information to make more sense to someone like me.”
Corbett enjoyed the policy equity remediation project for that reason too, but it also resonates in other ways. “One of my best friends is blind. He’ll talk to me about difficulties you might have with a screen reader with websites that aren’t structured in a way that’s accessible,” she said. By working on this project, Corbett knows she’s making sure that everyone who needs to understand the policies is going to be able to access them.
Before starting at ITS, Corbett remembers worrying. “I took one computer science class and I used to be good at math in high school but am I going to be able to do this,” she asked herself.
She realized that information technology is more versatile than what she initially thought and that the skills from her degree are relevant to her job. In addition, the soft skills she learned in her majors apply to data governance.
“Studying psychology really teaches you how to research something,” Corbett said. “If you have a question, it teaches you what process to go through to figure it out. Studying philosophy teaches you to be a very critical thinker, but also very inquisitive. It’s a lot of figuring things out yourself and thinking outside of the box.”
So far, she’s most enjoyed working on equity and inclusion in the workplace. In summer 2020, amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, Corbett began her research on the topic by reaching out to the psychology professor who had taught her about implicit bias. As her next step, she studied research about meaningfully reducing bias in the workplace while promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.
Tying it all together
In addition to her part-time data governance job, Corbett is a graphic designer for the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. She also works for community theaters in Charlotte. As the wardrobe chief for a performance of The Sister Act, she’s devising creative solutions to costume issues.
“It’s a weird combination,” she said. “I do governance and graphic design and theater. People are always surprised when they hear the three of them together.” Though they may not seem related, her other jobs tie into the problem solving that Corbett loves about data governance. “I’ve been thrilled with how much it has all been able to work together.”
Corbett credits ITS with expanding her skills, enabling her to work in a variety of areas of information technology, and helping her realize how much she enjoys research.
“I always thought of information technology as being something that you had to be good at computers to do, and I’m someone who enjoys something a bit more discourse based,” she said. “I’ve really come to see how much information technology is that way. A lot of the meetings we have are discussing and debating how to approach a problem or interpret a policy.”
Corbett likes “knowing that I’m doing things that are making people’s lives easier and enabling them to keep doing their jobs,” she said. “To me, that’s awesome.”
This story was written by an undergraduate student employee working in ITS Communications, Lila Davidson.