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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Stabile fields public information requests with service in mind

regina_250Mention Wellesley and certain adjectives immediately spring to mind.

Women’s college. Ivy League. Prestigious. Privileged.

Before she applied there, Regina Stabile knew none of these things. In fact, she had never even heard of Wellesley College, even though she was raised in Lawrence, Mass., a mill town about 35 miles outside of Boston.

She didn’t know much about the Ivy League either – and nothing of privilege.

Stabile’s Italian dad stressed the value of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. She worked a partial paper route at age 8, and before she left high school work became a necessity.

Stabile had to work after school and on weekends her junior and senior years in high school to pay for rent, utilities, food, clothing and other basic necessities. Soon after her senior year began, she was fending for herself financially without family support.

And in the months before high school graduation, she wasn’t thinking about which university to attend, but which branch of the service to join. “I knew if I joined the military I would not have to worry about having a roof over my head or medical care,” she said.

Stabile enlisted in the Air Force, believing it would train her for a career.

Scoring well on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, better known as ASVAB, she hoped for lots of career options. But the Air Force trained her to work on computer and support systems of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Three years later she would be able to cross-train into her career choice as a paralegal in the Judge Advocate General’s Department.

A full ride

During her six years of active duty, Stabile’s hard work earned her awards, medals and early promotions, as well as selection for the Scholarships for Outstanding Airman to ROTC program.

“They were giving me a full scholarship to an institution of my choice,” Stabile said. “I just had to get in.”

One of her mentors made her aware of Wellesley and encouraged her to apply. The scholarship removed financial barriers, so she took a chance – and was surprised when she was accepted.

Stabile knew that when she graduated, the Air Force would make her an officer, and that was good. But she was told she would end up working in missiles again, and by then, her sights were set on law school.

So she left both the Air Force and her scholarship behind and worked her way through college to supplement the financial aid she received. When Stabile graduated with a double major in English and psychology, she felt – for the first time in her life – that she was in control of her future.

Three years later, she earned a law degree from the University of Maine School of Law. While she was passionate about her work with the legal aid clinic and public interest law, she was drawn to higher education. Stabile became the assistant director of judicial affairs at Boston University, a position that included adjudicating allegations of non-academic student misconduct.

Carolina bound

She was doing well but wanted to move to North Carolina before she became too settled. Her father – who had a restaurant in Charlotte in the late ‘60’s – still talks about Carolina as “heaven on Earth.” So in 2007, she took a chance and moved here, without a job.

She started working for Tar Heel Temps in the University’s Office of Human Resources and later accepted a position in the office’s EPA Non-Faculty Unit. It was there that she learned about a new position – director of institutional records and reporting compliance – that the Office of University Counsel had created.

She applied, and once again was surprised when she was selected.

Stabile’s first day on the job was Feb. 1, 2009. While she did not process all public records requests the University received, she was in the only position specifically dedicated to public records. The 141 requests that came her way that year far surpassed the 74 requests the University had received in 2008.

In 2010, though, the increase turned into an avalanche – triggered by one Carolina football player’s infamous tweet that launched NCAA and University investigations into the football program. Over the next several months there would be more than 100 public records requests on this topic alone.

Stabile said the pressure she felt responding to the requests was daunting at times, particularly since the University was often bombarded with multiple, often competing requests, sometimes from different reporters at the same media agency.

That was only the beginning. The requests coming her way – many of which were multi-faceted – grew to 335 in 2010, 280 in 2011, and 320 in 2012.

“I don’t think many requesters – or the general public – have a real understanding of what is involved in processing some of these complex requests,” she said.

With the proliferation of online records, many of which have both confidential and public information, the contents of the records require careful review to protect confidential information under federal and state laws. That’s where Stabile spends the bulk of her time.

“At times it was really a challenge, but I also felt that other people on campus were reaching out and pulling me up,” she said. And last year, another full-time employee was hired to help process the public records requests.

In fact, Stabile said she feels she has been given too much credit for other people’s work, a feeling that intensified this spring when she learned she had won a 2013 C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

“I’m surrounded by exceptional colleagues who help me every day. In my job, I have a firsthand view of all the hard work of faculty, staff and students who are part of this incredible University,” she said.

Stabile’s co-workers who nominated her for the award believe she deserves it.

She brings to her work the “diplomatic skills of a secretary of state, the organizational skills of the national archivist, the analytical skills of a law professor and the stamina and drive of the Energizer Bunny,” they wrote.

Stabile said she had no idea her job would follow this direction, but she has found great satisfaction in the work.

“I really want to make a difference, and the more valuable I am at doing my job, the more I feel I have achieved that,” she said.