Cory Starr is a fan of things that run on beat, whether that be reporting systems or music. I had a chance to sit down with Cory to learn more about how things work in the back offices where funds and friends are raised for Illinois State University.

Starr is the current manager of database operations and systems support for University Advancement, having served the campus previously as a technical analyst through a huge project to enhance our student information system. In his previous life, Starr also was an instrument technician and jazz musician locally. This time of year, their crew is busy with Birds Give Back in his area (I was talking to Cory just before the big event), meaning that reports need to be prepared and communications need to be designed, generated, and distributed for all people connected with ISU. Never content to “cook the roast beef the way it has always been done,” he is working twice as hard now to be able to work twice as smart later. “I have automated myself out of several different jobs,” said Starr, “but that has given me room to adopt plenty of new ones. The more we can streamline information to our front-line staff, the better and more meaningful conversations they can have with the donors and potential donors.”

Starr and his coworkers rely on information from multiple places to build relationships with existing and potential donors, and to share our student’s stories with them. This means not only tracking who the employees and students are, but putting as much information as they can in there—did they participate in organizations, did they work in a specific place during their time here, did they have a particular great experience on campus, etc. As an ISU alum, Starr has records in advancement systems as well, but he notes a lack of some key elements specific to him, such as an early interest in programming; “Not everything happens on ISU grounds or is tracked by ISU systems, and as such some things are easier to discover than others and it is an ever-evolving process.”  He is quick to talk about compliance and security/integrity of information they store. We have achieved PCI (Payment Card Industry) compliance for our operation, which says a lot about how safe our information and transactions are. “We work with business partners across campus to understand, audit and validate our compliance, which introduces both technical and functional hurdles. Sometimes best practice isn’t always convenient, but it is always a worthy goal.”

University Advancement is Starr’s family on campus. “I feel really well-supported and my coworkers value my input and my creativity. Everyone over here works hard to do a good job because they are facilitated to work hard and do a good job. They also all at least pity-laugh at my bad puns/jokes.” As a new-ish father, Starr is picking up dad-jokes in his repertoire also. “When our son was born, I was more than encouraged to take time with him—and the division actually threw a baby shower for us.”

Brad Boesdorfer, director of university advancement technology and systems, said that it is more than tolerating the humor for sure. “Cory is a tremendous colleague to come to work with every day.  His curiosity in how to make all of our processes more efficient or more meaningful to the end user is present in everything that he does. I suspect everyone would enjoy working with a Cory; coincidentally I believe he may be working on a DIY cloner at home right now.”

Starr no longer makes too much music in his spare time, but still finds time to have hobbies, and a particular one with an eye on making the world a more sustainable place. “A few years back I became obsessed with figuring out what it would take to colonize space. I started designing a simulator to study and control enclosed environments so that humans could live prosperously in a place without a naturally supportive environment. One day it occurred to me that, for all my research on how to live in a bubble in an exotic place, I was actually just researching how to live sustainably and that the destination and context were irrelevant. After that revelation, my side project morphed from a colonization simulator into an ecosystem simulator, where I conceptualize use of technology to facilitate the automation of plant growth, care of animals and inhabitants, recycling processes, etc. in their most simple terms, without regard to the planet you might be on or around.  Ultimately, I would love to facilitate the discovery of the magic combination of biology and scientific process that allows us to live 100 perfect sustainably in a bubble with no door.” If it runs as smoothly as Cory’s other projects, we can only assume that he will be the first Redbird responsible for raising donors, jazz fans, and avocados all inside an Illinois State University dome.

Matt Damon shows his garden on Mars in the 2015 sci-fi movie "The Martian"

Matt Damon (not Cory Starr) in a scene from the 2015 sci-fi thriller The Martian. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)