Faces of UMSI: Allyson Mackay

With passion and dedication to public health, libraries and web development, Allyson Mackay came to UMSI with a plan to explore every opportunity available.

“My approach to grad school is to take as many opportunities as I can,” says the second-year student. “I view myself as a participant and I don’t want to be passive in my own education.”

Allyson’s nature has been the cornerstone for the experiences she’s had. After graduating from Tulane University in New Orleans with a bachelors in sociology and French, she attended Liverpool John Moores University in England for a Master’s of Science in Public Health; after completing the one-year program, she returned to New Orleans, where she worked at Tulane’s Health Science Library. While working, Allyson took classes under a postbaccalaureate program in applied computing with a focus on integrated application development at Tulane’s School of Continuing Studies; through which, she learned website development, JavaScript, database application and HCI. 

As Allyson debated between finishing the postbaccalaureate program or pursuing a library program, she researched iSchools with a health component and came across UMSI. She enrolled after attending Visiting Days. 

“I thought I would have a chance to get my ALA badge and get opportunities that were outside of traditional library skills,” she says.

Though she initially chose to specialize in library and information science, Allyson quickly switched to information analysis and retrieval. “I think I just mostly wanted to take 601 and 618,” she says. “I didn’t really want to take the HCI classes.”

In her first year, Allyson joined the School of Information Social Justice Group (SISJ) and the School of Information Master’s Association (SIMA) as the information manager and interim events manager. She made the most of extracurricular opportunities, and says that working on client projects in different situations have been extremely valuable to her professional growth.

One of those projects was through the School of Engineering’s Multidisciplinary Design Program working with the Kellogg Eye Center to develop a clinical diagnostic tool for rare retinal dystrophies to help physicians at small clinics. 

“That project was the perfect storm, but it was a good learning experience,” says Allyson. “It was a big exercise in figuring out strategy and how to drive a team forward.” 

Last summer, Allyson interned at General Electric, working with the Enterprise architecture team writing web services for other application teams. She maintained a relationship with GE, returning in the fall to work with the principal information architect on a canonical data model and with the quality assurance team doing agile work. 

An avid traveler, in May, Allyson will be one of 20 students heading to India for 8 weeks under the Global Information Engagement Program (GIEP). Her team is working to implement a learning management system for Be Well and SMF Hospitals in Chennai, India. The LMS will address the challenge of finding skilled healthcare workers by enabling skill development of staff at both hospitals and increase access to healthcare information resources. 

Also pursuing a certificate in health informatics, Allyson describes healthcare as a “complex and challenging” industry in great need of development and growth.  

“IT is supposed to be a magic bullet for healthcare, but it doesn’t work like that because of existing structures,” she says. “And helping solve these problems within the structure, while at the same time challenging it, is endlessly fascinating and equally as important.” 

After returning from India, Allyson hopes to secure a job in New Orleans doing information architecture and/or web development.