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PhD Student Joseph Winberry: Using the Information Sciences to promote Diversity, Inclusion, and Change

Joseph Winberry’s desire to connect older adults with resources – especially marginalized populations within that community – propelled him into the information sciences master’s program at UT, and eventually into pursuing his doctorate degree.

Winberry had worked with nonprofits after earning an undergraduate degree in history and political science, and he was working for the Knox County Community Action Committee Office on Aging when he began seeing a specific need. He managed the elder abuse response program and, during his interactions with elders in the community, realized they weren’t always getting access to information that they needed.

“I started seeing how information is really important in bringing about social change, and I was really interested in how information can be used to help people,” he said.

He started reaching out to diverse groups about elder abuse, including those who are LGBTQ, immigrants, refugees, low-income individuals, people with disabilities and people of color, among others.

“I came across this idea of intersectionality, which is understanding that people don’t all have the same experiences. I realized I had one idea of what it meant to be an older adult, but learned that being an older adult means a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” he said.

He was able to make connections between his work at the Office on Aging, classes in the SIS master’s program and in his research agenda. Winberry liked the program and the research he was doing so much, he decided to continue his education in the College of Communication and Information’s doctoral program right after finishing his MSIS. Though he is no longer employed with the Office on Aging, he is still working with them on diversifying their senior directory, and was even given a grant by the Association for Library and Information Science Education to support this effort.

He’s currently research assistant to Associate Professor Devendra Potnis, and together they’re digging into managing innovations in public libraries.

“The research we started in the master’s program which continues now asks how public libraries can remain relevant through innovation and become active community centers instead of just passive information repositories,” he said. “I want to do something that brings together my experience working with older adults, diverse populations, and social innovations in public libraries to help make a difference for people.”

Winberry said the support he’s received in both graduate programs has been indispensable in reaching his goals.

“There’s been a lot of support from Dr. Kelly and other leaders in the college who want to help the PhD students to achieve their goals. There’s a lot of support from faculty, staff and fellow students who are willing to work through challenges with you,” he said.

As he wraps up his first semester in the program, Winberry said his dissertation research isn’t specifically defined but will continue in the same vein of inclusivity, diversity and access to information for older adults. His long-term desire is to be a professor, and to do work that makes society a better place.

“I wanted to be a teacher basically all my life and I’ve recently become much more interested in the research side of it as well and how to use my research agenda to be an information activist and how to make society better through the use of resources and points of view from library and information science. I hope to inspire others who want to make an impact through their work in the information field.” he said.