MSIM online students sharpen skills, build community

Story and photos by Doug Parry Friday, February 2, 2024
Stephanie Ballard speaks during a Q&A with MSIM program chair David Hendry.
Stephanie Ballard speaks during a Q&A with MSIM program chair David Hendry during the Friday welcome event at the MSIM Online Student Summit.

More than 50 online students and several alumni from the Information School’s Master of Science in Information Management program gathered at the University of Washington campus for the second annual MSIM Online Student Summit to discuss leadership and artificial intelligence. 

The Jan. 26-27 summit began with a Friday evening reception at Kane Hall, featuring a keynote conversation with Stephanie Ballard, senior practice development manager in Microsoft’s Office of Responsible AI. Ballard is an alum of both the Master of Library and Information Science and Ph.D. programs at the iSchool. Professor and MSIM program chair David Hendry posed questions to Ballard about how generative AI has affected her job, which she said changed substantially with the advent of ChatGPT 4.

Ballard said she finds generative AI tools useful in creating first drafts of emails and documents, alleviating the “terror of the blank page.” However, she said, AI doesn’t replace people’s decision-making.

Roey Shaked asks Ballard a question during the Q&A.

“Something that really resonates with the way that we position the technologies we build at Microsoft is a really intentional choice to call them ‘co-pilots’ – things that assist you in your work and help to make you more productive, and not things that work to replace your critical thinking skills,” she said.

Ballard answered several questions from the audience, including one about “red teaming,” a tactic engineers use to try to push the boundaries of AI and find weaknesses in order to expose them before products go on the market.

“A lot of this boils down to trying to make an AI system do quite bad things. We find when we do this kind of testing, we have more successful launches.”

A Saturday full of workshops at Mary Gates Hall followed, featuring topics such as “Value Sensitive Design & AI,” “Cultural Politics of Responsible AI,” and “Self-Organizing Teams in an Agile Environment.” Agueda Sanchez, an MSIM alum and now senior privacy product manager at Microsoft, presented on “Building Trust Experiences for AI.”

Xiuchuan “Zoe” Li speaks during the Saturday fishbowl conversation.

A session on “Regression Analysis Using R” was particularly helpful to Mid-Career MSIM student Shane Miller.

“Experiencing a training session hands-on in the computer lab was great,” he said. “That session’s content happened to be a perfect fit for where I’m at in my learning experience.”

Miller, who lives in Port Angeles and works as an IT manager for the Clallam County public library system, called the Saturday sessions “super useful.”

“Meeting all these people I'd been working with online but never met in person was awesome. Plus, we got to meet others as well — alumni, for example,” he said.

The sessions included a fishbowl conversation on leadership, where participants discussed the book “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown. In a fishbowl conversation, people sit in a circle and take turns getting their chance to go to the middle and speak. Attendees were highly engaged throughout the session, offering their thoughts on Brown’s approach to encouraging leadership at every level of an organization.

Hendry called it an “amazing event.” The student summit, he said, is “one step toward our collective goal: a community of MSIM alumni who are data-driven, socially conscious information leaders.” 

Doris Cross speaks during the fishbowl conversation.
Doris Cross speaks during the fishbowl conversation.

Pictured at top: Michelle Durham, MSIM '23, speaks during the fishbowl conversation.