MARA Student D'Anderia Dunham Reflects on 20+ Years in RIM

Published: June 07, 2017 by Anna Maloney

D’Anderia Dunham was a 17-year old high school student when she started her career in records administration. Although she was eager to work at the time, her mother was reluctant.

“She didn’t want me to do fast food and she wanted a job that was going to be safe. She wanted me to be able to learn office etiquette—to her that was the most important thing,” said Dunham.

A teacher connected Dunham with a position at Texas Children’s Hospital and when she interviewed for the part-time records management assistant job, it was her mother who answered—and asked—all of the questions. Dunham was offered the job and worked four-hour shifts every evening, prepping documents for microfilming. She continued working while she pursued her bachelor’s degree in pre-med biology, hoping to become a physician assistant. At the time she graduated, however, Texas Children’s Hospital wasn’t hiring physician assistants, so Dunham continued her work in the records management department, working her way up to records management technician and, eventually, records management specialist.

Dunham saw a lot of changes during her years at Texas Children’s Hospital. In her department, which was responsible for managing the hospital’s business records, including human resources, accounting, and legal files, she saw the staff dwindle as projects and initiatives in the medical records department took precedent. She also saw document scanning replace microfilming efforts, and by the end of her career at Texas Children’s, she was leading the document scanning process.

After 20 years in the healthcare industry, Dunham was ready for a new challenge. In 2014, she accepted a position as a lead records analyst for Murphy Oil. The position has afforded her the opportunity to build a records management program from the ground up. “There was absolutely no records management program,” she said. But she embraced the challenge, with two decades of experience and wisdom behind her. “The specifics of the industry are different, but overall it’s pretty similar,” she explained. Her first major projects were to consolidate the offsite storage (she has reduced it from seven down to three) and to complete a records retention schedule.

Dunham’s position as a lead records analyst hasn’t been without its challenges. When she started, employees were “just doing what they wanted to do.” She met with the management staff and “the worker bees” in each business unit to get a clear picture of the records that were created and where they were stored. Working with a records management consultant, she was able to develop a change management strategy that emphasized “trying to help, not trying to change.”

Another more persistent challenge has been the lack of support staff. When Dunham started with Murphy Oil, she was able to grow her department to include three full-time employees, with openings for two additional staff positions. But when oil prices dropped, the whole industry took an economic hit and the budget for Dunham’s support staff was eliminated. Now that she is a department of one, Dunham is trying to balance day-to-day operations with strategic planning. “My ultimate goal is to implement a global records management program managing paper records and digital assets.”

Fortunately, as Dunham completes her last two semesters in the iSchool's Master of Archives and Records Administration program (she anticipates graduating in December 2017), she will get invaluable experience with strategic planning in MARA 284 Information Governance. “I’m looking forward to the IG class. I’m hoping it will give me more information about where to go from here.” She’s also excited to take an elective in cyber security this summer. “I’m hoping it will help me get my feet wet about cyber security in relation to a global document management program.”

Dunham started the MARA program in January 2015, after a friend and fellow records manager had challenged her to earn her master’s degree. “We had gone to ARMA conferences together, and had seen the SJSU table. He said ‘We should do this together!’” Dunham was hesitant at first—she had considered going back to school before, but the cost seemed prohibitive. At her friend and colleague’s insistence, though, she applied for the MARA program in late 2014 and was accepted for the spring semester. In a twist of fate, the friend who had encouraged her to apply to MARA didn’t end up enrolling, but Dunham didn’t let that stop her from pursuing her master's degree.

Ultimately, the MARA program has helped to reinforce lessons Dunham learned while studying for the Certified Records Management exam. During her first semester in the MARA program in January 2015, she sat for parts of the exam, before completing part six and earning the CRM designation in the summer of that year. MARA has also introduced Dunham to the world of professional research—a topic she had never considered before. In MARA 285 – Research Methods and Design for Archivists and Records Managers, taught by Joshua Zimmerman, she designed a survey to learn about the career goals of RIM professionals, from file room clerks to chief officers. After distributing the survey to her local ARMA chapter, she was surprised to learn that most do want to advance in their careers, but not necessarily to the highest level. Many respondents were content to be records managers or vice presidents.

As for Dunham, her career in records management has been on an upward trajectory since she started at Texas Children’s Hospital over 20 years ago, and she’s not stopping now. She aspires to implement and lead a global records management program at Murphy Oil, and one day hopes to hold the title of Chief Information Governance Officer. And if her professional and academic dedication are any indicator, she’ll have no problem getting there.

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