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This summer, I am an intern with the Triangle Privacy Research Hub, working on cyber policy research with Professor David Hoffman of the Sanford School. My research focuses on COVID-19 health data policy and contributes to the important work of the Duke Cyber Policy and Gender Violence Initiative. Part of the internship has been participating in a series of privacy and cybersecurity policy guest speakers who are experts in cyber policy. On July 1, I attended one of those talks featuring Audrey Plonk, the Head of Division for Digital Economy Policy at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with Professor Hoffman.

Woman smiling against brick wall backdrop
Ana DeCesare is a rising sophomore majoring in Public Policy.

The speaker provided an insightful conversation on global data economic policy. With subject matter ranging from international data localization to contact tracing, this webinar opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist within and beyond the rapidly expanding realm of cyber policy. Hearing about the beginnings of Plonk’s comprehensive career in policy – starting with her government work during the post-9/11 era – is a reminder of how much technology has changed over the past two decades. For instance, Plonk referenced starting at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security before the iPhone was introduced. When this revolutionary smartphone rolled out in 2007, the majority of Duke’s current undergraduate class was in elementary school. Today, students prepare for lectures and quizzes that appear in Zoom classrooms, accessible through a “smart” device, primarily in the comfort of the home. It is apparent, citing education as a timely example, of the drastic changes in interaction that technology has ushered forth. Plonk spoke to how the attacks of 9/11 inevitably shaped the trajectory of her career. As Duke continues to research, innovate, and grow during the coronavirus pandemic, I can only think of how this moment will similarly shape the future lives, goals and careers of university students, teachers and faculty.

In sharing projects created by the OECD, one message was clear: The focus of improving human resources should be through sustainable and inclusive practices that benefit the entire community. Such comprehensive development requires broad strokes of community-minded policy, not just fiscal endeavors that raise GDP. Plonk’s work in engaging and expanding this platform that explores policy solutions is personified through OECD’s tagline: “Better policy for better lives.” This is an objective all legislation should deem imperative, or at least, strive towards. I was intrigued when listening to the range of the OECD’s work – from investigating the Christchurch massacre to indexing quality of life in various countries. In addition to a fascinating cursory introduction to the work of the OECD, Plonk equipped students with powerful, compelling and critical career advice. It was incredibly inspiring to hear encouragement to follow a path of personal fulfillment.

To me, the most captivating aspect of this conversation was not focused intently on the intricate facets of data and the global economy. When the discussion turned to the value of interdisciplinary education, the arts and sciences harmoniously weaving together to forge a successful, fulfilling career, my interest was piqued. As a fellow classically trained dancer, I was enthralled by Plonk’s diverse background, specifically the way she described the experience of being a dancer throughout her undergraduate career. I may be biased, but artists, especially those en pointe, always offer incredible perspective. It was truly a privilege to hear from a global leader in policy who shared not just her accomplishments, but her origin story.

Furthermore, not unlike many other Duke students, the thought of what comes “next” after graduation frequents my mind. Professor Hoffman and Ms. Plonk heartened my outlook as to what might lie beyond my undergraduate years when they noted that there are many different paths for people to take if they are interested in technology policy. Plonk shared the story that when being interviewed by Hoffman for a role at Intel (where she was the senior director of cybersecurity policy for a decade), Plonk inquired, “Are you going to make me go to law school?” to which Hoffman replied, “Only if you would like to go to law school.” Plonk went on to explain that the technology policy profession is comprised of people of varying backgrounds, including public policy professionals, lawyers and technologists. Hoffman noted that it is the collaboration between individuals from these different disciplines that results in the most impactful technology policy. This jovial exchange now, presumably, was a serious consideration in a conference room at one time. It is invaluable knowing that this kind of expertise can be garnered through many different experiences, whether this means practicing law (or not). I came away from this discussion feeling refreshed and inspired to do my part to help enact the sorts of needed change that global leaders, like Audrey Plonk, have brought to the world’s attention.

Ana DeCesare is a rising sophomore majoring in Public Policy. She is currently working with Sanford's research team, exploring COVID-19 contact tracing and helping to launch the Cyber Policy Gender Violence Initiative. Her goal is to expound tangible solutions, with the goal to improve the lives of others.