Jennifer Gavin Takes Archives To Space and Beyond

Community Profile

“I absolutely needed the MARA degree to get into this field. You need experience, continuing education through certifications or some manner, and you need the degree in order to really become successful and get that dream job.”

Jennifer Gavin
Atascadero, CA
Associate Intern, NASA
MARA Student (Expected Graduation Fall 2016)

San José State University School of Information MARA student Jennifer Gavin’s exciting internship with NASA.

Jennifer Gavin had just completed her Bachelor’s degree in English and was frustrated by the lack of available jobs. She went online to, the Federal government’s official job list, and searched through every open position until she found one that intrigued her: the FBI was seeking someone to manage the destruction of documents and records. “I read the entire job description and thought it was amazing,” she recalls. “I’d never even heard of archives! I didn’t realize that there was a whole career about records management. I thought it was amazing that you could get paid to destroy records!”

Thus inspired, Gavin researched the field of archives and records management, found the iSchool and enrolled to start learning all about her new career of choice. “I basically tripped into it,” Gavin admits. It was the best trip of her life.

How to Succeed in Archives and Records Management

Gavin entered the iSchool’s Master of Archives and Record Administration (MARA) program in Spring 2014 and was soon engrossed in learning about the field. “I’ve gained an interest in information governance,” she says, “which involves the security, privacy and categories of records management into one focus.”

Then a guest speaker invited to talk to the school provided key information to allow Gavin to stand out in her chosen focus. “He said there were four certifications that someone could get to be in the top 1 percent of information governing professionals,” Gavin explains. “I figured, why not me? It’s something I have an interest in and I’m a firm believer in continuing education.”

The certifications include:

  • Information Governance Professional (IGP) certification, for those who “help an organization leverage information for maximum value while reducing the costs and mitigating the risks associated with using and governing this important asset”;

  • Certified Information Privacy Manager (CIPM), which delves into privacy program administration and how to “establish, maintain and manage a privacy program across all stages of its lifecycle”;

  • Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS), covering 15 e-discovery fields including information management and litigation readiness, data culling, legal framework and obligation, and ethics; and

  • Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), for those who “manage, design, and oversee and assesses an enterprise’s information security.”

Gavin chose one randomly, CIPM, and started studying.

“The certification tells people how to structure privacy teams, develop and implement privacy framework, and goes into the privacy program operational life cycle – how to understand the entire thing,” Gavin elaborates. “I could use this in the medical industry, banking, business-where there are international standards for each country’s’ privacy standards. Every organization would have to have an understanding of privacy, because there’s always a need for privacy.”

She passed the test, thanks in large part to the The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP)’s textbooks, which she highly recommends. And she’s now moving on to the next certification on her list.

Putting MARA to Work

In between school and exams, Gavin sought out an internship to put her newfound archives and records management skills to good use. Through the iSchool internship list she found an on-site experience working with NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and is now an associate intern at the Ames Research Center, located in the heart of Silicon Valley in Moffett Field, California. Ames research is crucial to NASA’s space biology program: sending science payloads aboard shuttle and satellite flights, Ames seeks to help understand “the effects of high radiation and low gravity environments on humans in space.”

Gavin, pictured right at Ames, works in the Life Science Data Archive, where, under the direction of a NASA archivist, also an iSchool alumna, she performs general background research on the subjects represented in boxes that were on the missions to space. “I survey the boxes, verify the content, identify the document types and formats, do any preservational requirements, physically arrange, rehouse materials, update box numbers and create a new order of the content, and reshelve everything,” she explains.

“The items I’m working on are only accessible for researchers or scientists. There’s a special online archive that they can search to find what they’re looking for, and then they can put in a request and an archivist can help them obtain the information.”

Gavin is assigned work by her two supervisors, provided with examples and then left alone to do the arranging. Was she nervous to jump into NASA’s archives and just start working? Not at all.

“I think the [MARA] program helped me very well,” she states. “I’m just getting used to the hands-on part. I was taught the theory, and now I’m applying it in the physical world.”

The Final Frontier

Gavin has one more course to complete in Fall 2016, Information Governance, and plans on completing the corresponding IGP certification so she’ll be that much more knowledgeable as she starts her job search. “Digital is the future and that’s the area that I’m going to be focusing in for my continuing education,” she says.

Gavin is “constantly looking for opportunities” in other space-technology facilities, and notes that many individual companies are starting to get into archives.

“I absolutely needed the MARA degree to get into this field,” she affirms. “I’ve found that you can have the experience but that only takes you so far, and your degree and certifications only take you so far. You need experience, continuing education through certifications or some manner, and you need the degree in order to really become successful and get that dream job. All three are essential to grab someone’s attention and become happy and content in your profession.”