Imagine stepping onto a picturesque campus like Duke for the first time, filled with possibility and dreams, embarking on a journey that will redefine your life's path. For Joanne Kim, Duke University seemed overwhelming.
“I came from a very rural town in Missouri. So, when I got to Duke, I didn’t know where to start or what exactly to do during my first semester. Looking back, I didn't even quite understand what artificial intelligence or data privacy entailed. Wide-eyed and curious, I decided to just go on a random walk.”
On that walk, she met Justin Sherman (Senior Fellow at Sanford), who introduced her to a world she never imagined. Sherman connected her to Sanford’s Tech Policy Lab and other eye-opening opportunities. With the guidance of faculty members David Hoffman, Jolynn Dellinger, Kim Kotlar, and Ken Rogerson, Sanford became the headquarters of her undergraduate journey, sparking her interest in the intersection of technology, policy, and data privacy. That fascination continues today with her work as a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company.
“One of the most incredible parts about being a public policy undergrad from Duke is that I see the direct application of the things I learned in the classroom in my workplace.”
TECH POLICY WORK AND STUDENT ADVOCACY AT DUKE
As she delved deeper into her studies, Joanne discovered her passion for safeguarding health data privacy in an increasingly digitized world. Her dedication and intellectual prowess culminated in her groundbreaking research on data brokers and mental health data. In 2022, she authored the seminal Sanford Tech Policy Data Broker Research, a milestone marking her as a rising star.
Kim reflects on her motivations for that project.
“Professor David Hoffman was one of my mentors at Stanford, and he always kept impact at the center of all his work. He always asked us: Why is this work important? Who is this work serving? I've carried those two questions with me in every project I've done since, which has kept me passionate, energetic, and empowered.”
Her research has practical implications for protecting individuals' sensitive health information, paving the way for more robust data privacy regulations and enforcement. In 2023, her findings have been a catalyst for a congressional hearing, inspired legislation in Massachusetts, and were cited in a White House roundtable on data privacy. Through her work, she's already helping society navigate the complex terrain where technology, policy, and privacy intersect.
She also acknowledges the positive influence of Duke alums worldwide and what it meant for her to join that community, particularly as a graduate of Sanford.
“The sphere of influence that Duke students have once they graduate is so great. We are tasked with carrying out that impact in a positive way. And, that kind of mindset, as well as the tools needed to take action on that impact, comes from the thinking and training offered at Sanford.”
Kim’s accomplishments at Duke extended beyond the confines of academia. As a student, she was also integral in establishing Duke’s initiatives to raise awareness of gender violence issues and provide resources and support for victims. Additionally, despite attending school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim was able to help support efforts to continue the Duke Children’s Marathon, switching to a virtual format but still raising approximately $6,000 for pediatric patients.
CAREER AND CONTINUED FOCUS ON HELPING OTHERS
Kim has continued having an impact, now with McKinsey in Seattle. Moving to a new city after Duke, she once again found herself in an unfamiliar world. This, of course, inspired another stroll.
“When I got to McKinsey, I told myself I'm going to take another random walk. I'm going to see what happens. Once again, I met a mentor who was passionate about and interested in my work on advancing data interoperability and privacy. He looped me into the healthcare space, giving me the opportunity to work directly on health data interoperability issues and think more broadly about the challenges at hand from a different lens. Through all that, I’ve learned how to collaborate with our clients toward enabling the care continuum and approaching patient care holistically. I’ve come to realize that I’m able to continue to have a positive ripple effect, just like at Sanford and at Duke.”
Beyond her work, Kim has been able to stay connected to the tenants of Sanford through volunteerism and connection with Seattle charities. She has worked with local non-profits to engage with marginalized populations and to provide better access to health and financial resources. She has also engaged directly with people in need through her religious community.
Although she is now thousands of miles from Durham, Kim never stops thinking of the values she learned from her time at Sanford.
“Terry Sanford's values and influence on Sanford is apparent. This idea of having outrageous ambitions and carrying them with you wherever you go has made all the difference. After you graduate, it is very easy to lose a sense of community because you're sent off into the world, and it's so easy to get swept into the wave of whatever comes next. While at Sanford, Dean Kelly repeatedly said carry your outrageous ambitions with you. Despite being in a new city across the country, I’ve never felt disconnected from that shared purpose. I like the idea of carrying it with me, and that has translated into the work I’m doing now.”
ADVICE FOR SANFORD STUDENTS AT DUKE AND BEYOND
As she reminisces about her undergrad career at Duke, Kim hopes that current and future generations of Duke students can remember to have the same pioneer spirit that she had.
“When you step onto campus, you should just explore everything. That enabled me to meet lifelong mentors and friends across campus, student organizations, and communities.”
She also relays the importance of seeking guidance through the alumni network.
“Identify the environments where you succeed and feel you drive the most impact. Once you identify that environment, reach out to the alums working in those environments and ask us to share that knowledge and wisdom with you… I encourage every Duke student to reach out to alums because no one at Duke is alone, and our lines are always open to you.”
Today, Joanne Kim is not just an alumna of Duke University; she's a trailblazer, a visionary, and a guardian of data privacy rights. She is living proof that one can start with a simple walk and turn it into a journey that shapes the future. Her story is a testament to the power of curiosity, determination, and the incredible opportunities that await those who dare to take that first step into the unknown.
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