Staff spotlight: Ashlee Wilson makes a difference in UI research and beyond

Ashlee Wilson may not be working at a research bench, but she assists in her own way as the main service lead for TriNetX—training hundreds of faculty, staff, and students during the past year in this new technology.

TriNetX is a global network that enables researchers to access de-identified patient data to enhance their research trials, accelerate patient recruitment, and collaborate with others around the nation. UI Health Care has had access to more than 80 new clinical trials since joining the network in 2017.

As a member of the Biomedical Informatics team of the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science (ICTS), Wilson works with her colleagues to support both basic and clinical scientific research projects, receiving rave reviews from many of the faculty and staff members with whom she works.

Jacob Michaelson, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, says, “Navigating and extracting insights from medical record data is a critical skill in our genetic research, and TriNetX is our tool of choice for this. She is extremely professional and knowledgeable and has been a great asset to the development of my team’s skills.”

Wilson is relatively new to the health care informatics world, joining the department three years ago from her position at UI Information Technology Services, but has worked at the university since 2011 after receiving her computer science degree from Iowa. Prior to that, she was a student employee in the College of Pharmacy.

She really enjoys her current job and the opportunities she has had in the workplace to broaden her commitment to promoting diversity in the IT field, including receiving a CIO-sponsored scholarship to attend the Women Advance IT Conference at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in October.

“I was really honored to be selected for the scholarship to attend the conference. I believe strongly that diversity of all types in IT is very important and the conference was very inspiring,” Wilson says.

Wilson was nominated for the scholarship by her immediate supervisor Heath Davis, lead application developer, and Boyd Knosp, associate dean for information technology, both champions of increasing the numbers of women and other underrepresented groups in IT.

Davis notes, “Ashlee takes time at work and in her personal life to grow her perspective, and knowledge base around inclusivity and diversity. In information technology this is incredibly important as women are underrepresented, not just in faculty roles but also in professional roles. The conference scholarship was an opportunity to continue to encourage her leadership skills contributions to the UI research community.”

Wilson traveled to the conference with seven other UI staff members, some of whom she was meeting for the first time, and at the conference made several contacts from other colleges and universities. “That was the best part, meeting so many other people and hearing about what they are doing at their universities.”

She notes that conference sessions were presented by women IT professionals from many different universities including University of Southern California (building leadership skills), Ohio State (mentorship), and Harvard (recruiting and retention). She particularly liked an idea she heard in a session with a Penn State speaker about a 9-week computer programming workshop series called “Code for Her,” that was targeted to women and gender-diverse students. “It seemed like a good way to get more people learning in a judgement-free environment and maybe get them more interested in IT as a possible career,” Wilson said.

Wilson said an ongoing benefit of attending the conference is that she will be able to reach out to the contacts she made there to do some problem-solving or share information and new insights.

That is the sort of “going above and beyond” that Kim Sprenger, RN, BS, clinical research manager, says Wilson demonstrates on a regular basis. “She is always willing to teach or assist a team who is in need of help. She has helped make it easier to identify teams who may be interested in research opportunities, and she assists with education, queries, and general support to our research coordinators. We could not do it without her!”

Wilson encourages anyone interested in potential careers in information technology to explore the possibilities, including reaching out to UI Women in Technology, a group of UI employees who welcome anyone, regardless of their gender identification, to learn more about the IT field, build connections, and collaborate, regardless of department, job title, age, or years of experience. You can learn more by subscribing to the group’s mailing list.