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LBC Alumna Plays Key Role in Creation of GDPR

Kristin Eilenberg

One Lyman Briggs alumna played a key role in the creation and implementation of what is being called the most important change in date privacy regulation in decades—a regulation that is drastically impacting the way companies handle personal data around the world.

This summer, the European Union (EU) launched the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which standardizes data protection law across all 28 EU countries and imposes strict new rules on controlling and processing personally identifiable information. The law has far-reaching implications in that any website targeted to international audiences that include the EU must be GDPR compliant.

As a part of the initial GDPR discussion, Lyman Briggs alumna Kristin (Merritt) Eilenberg spoke with EU parliament members as well as key stakeholders from the academic community and the pharmaceutical and technology industries. She employed her expertise in the field to identify additional stakeholders, coordinate discussions, and contribute her perspectives on the topic.

Because of her extensive experience in the pharmaceutical industry, Eilenberg's primary focus was on the medical community and how it handles personal data. For over three years of GDPR discussions, Eilenberg and other thought leaders educated stakeholders about the logistics and potential impact of restricting the healthcare and research industry's access to data.

Eilenberg worked with some of the brightest minds in the healthcare information technology field to create a solution that protected personal data, while still allowing it to be used responsibly for patient care and scientific innovation. To do this, she coordinated two summits in 2011 and 2012 devoted to the topic. From the results of those summits, she helped author the article, Trustworthy reuse of health data: a transnational perspective, published in the International Journal of Medical Informatics. The article discusses the GDPR classification of personal health and clinical trial data in a special category due to the need for protecting trustworthy reuse of the data.

"There is a need for better training on obligations and responsibilities of good data use," said Eilenberg, "no matter the type of data, but especially with personal data in the science field where the data leaks can have serious ramifications to the individual."

Eilenberg graduated from Michigan State University in 1994 with dual B.S. degrees in Environmental Science and Management from Lyman Briggs College and Medical Microbiology from the College of Natural Science. She received her International Master of Business Administration from Purdue University in 2005.

Eilenberg's career is built on a strong problem-solving skillset. Her Briggs-honed ability to take a problem apart, look at the factors from different angles, and put together an efficient solution has been one of her most valuable assets.

"The world that I live in is full of big problems and you can't tackle them with a singular focus," Eilenberg said. "If you want to find a long-term solution, you have to take a more integrated approach and layer in all of the different factors."

This skillset earned her a place at the table for the GDPR discussions. Creating the regulations and determining how to implement them were complex tasks where consumers, corporations, and a variety of stakeholders needed to be considered, thus making it vital that those at the helm think about the problem from different angles.

At the start of her career, Eilenberg's problem-solving skills helped her succeed in the pharmaceutical industry, where she proved to be invaluable. She developed a track record as the go-to person to move the company forward when tough issues occurred.

"My CEO would leave me voicemails at 2 a.m. saying 'I've been told it can't be done, can you figure it out?' And I did," she said.

In 2010, Eilenberg used her problem-solving and business strategy knowledge to create her own company, Lodestone Logic, a global consultancy aimed at helping pharmaceutical and healthcare companies navigate the regulations, protocols, and opportunities of digital health. Lodestone Logic equips companies with connections, insights, and resources for success.

Building a business centered on working through these complex issues and providing insight to companies affected made Eilenberg a leader scientific research and healthcare information technology communities. Her position as an expert in these fields made her an ideal candidate for the GDPR discussions, and where she applied her skillset on a global scale.

Eilenberg credits her Lyman Briggs education with helping her develop a strong problem-solving skillset. While she said she had heard of integrated and interdisciplinary thinking before arriving at Briggs, it was not until she began to see it in action that she really understood what it meant.

LBC's unique model and innovative teaching methods were ahead of the curve, she said. The focus on exploring science across disciplines and cultivating resourceful, independent critical thinkers was something that she did not see in other colleges, even when pursuing her master's degree.

"It wasn't easy, but I'm glad I stuck with it and saw the value in it," Eilenberg said. "I love challenges and discovering how things are connected, and I continue to use those skills in my work."

Though Eilenberg had been offered a full-ride scholarship to Purdue for engineering, she said she preferred to study biology and touring LBC made her feel right at home where she met other students she felt connected to.

"At the time, we did not have many women in science fields, so it was very lonely to be a female who liked science," Eilenberg said. "To turn around and be in a dorm with other women pursuing science like me was huge."

She particularly remembers former LBC Coordinator of Advising and Student Affairs Sandra Conner helping her find her way. Eilenberg knew she would someday need to work and apply her knowledge somewhere, but she said Conner helped her to visualize what that would look like and helped her set goals and objectives that set her up for success.

In addition to influencing global policy in the GDPR discussions and building her own thriving business, Eilenberg says her career also has given her opportunities to invent business models and technologies that save lives by impacting patient's access to innovation and medicines.

Through all of this, Eilenberg is always proud to be a Briggsie.

"When I read the Briggantine, I am always impressed with the caliber of the students and the work that they are doing," she said. "It is obvious that we Briggsies are utilizing our talents to make a difference in the world."

Though the GDPR discussions have ended and the regulations have been enacted in the EU, Eilenberg continues to make a difference in the healthcare information technology field. She works to educate businesses on how to comply with the new regulations, and is already looking to the future of data protection in the United States.

"GDPR is just the tip of the privacy iceberg and is forcing a transformation," said Eilenberg. "Businesses are focused on monetization of the data; but they have proven that even when data is their business, they do not have adequate data strategies, plans, or controls."

Eilenberg predicts that the US will need to create its own set of data protection regulations within the next two years. With dramatic data breaches still affecting lives, and laws already being put in place at the state level in California, stakeholders and influencers like Eilenberg will need to continue discussions to ensure that appropriate privacy regulations are created and enforced.