From age five to eight, Jesse Harrison-Noonan ’09 lived in the Chilean village of Maule Sur, four hours south of Santiago, with her brother and parents. They volunteered, as part of a Maryknoll Catholic mission, to assist the community of 500 people with everything from school to farming to construction. Fair-skinned, blond and blue-eyed, Harrison-Noonan stood out among the local people and learned quickly to hone her communication and social interaction skills to make friends, all the while developing a global perspective and becoming an effective citizen. “I was aware of my privilege early on, and that cascaded a lot into Alverno’s 8 Abilities,” she says.
Her parents homeschooled her and her brother, and although she regularly scored high on tests, one ability came up short: analysis. It wasn’t until she got to Alverno that the curriculum, a handful of memorable instructors and a deep dive into a research project challenged her to turn her weakness into a strength. Now, as a technical infrastructure lead at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Harrison-Noonan regularly draws from all of the Abilities, including analysis, to manage a training platform for Google Ads. “Analysis tells my story. It was a weak area and so I sought it out,” she says.
Harrison-Noonan’s road to success began her freshman year in an unexpected place: An introductory communication course. The instructor took a no-nonsense approach to teaching language. “I had expected this to be one of my easiest classes,” says Harrison-Noonan. Instead, her assignment came back riddled with comments and corrections marked in red ink. Instead of discouraging Harrison-Noonan, it made her determined to do better. She learned how to analyze an author’s writing by breaking it down into smaller components and analyzing the grammar.
That process helped Harrison-Noonan extract meaning and also better construct her own writing. By her junior and senior year, she was tutoring her peers in writing. Now at Google, she regularly draws upon her written communication skills to develop customer reports, writing detailed analysis of software test results, providing daily project updates and more.
One of Harrison-Noonan’s most rewarding undertakings occurred her junior and senior year, when she embarked on an independent research project to look at how members of the LGBT community used language to stigmatize themselves. Harrison-Noonan read and analyzed previously transcribed interviews from 500 members of the LGBT community and manually tabulated how many times key words, such as alcoholism and depression, appeared. The words indicated life experiences and a sense of self. Tabulating them was labor-intensive work, but Harrison-Noonan was thrilled to be involved because until then, very little research had been conducted on the LGBT community. She presented her findings, entitled Effects of Self-Stigma on Sexual Minorities, at the American Psychological Association’s 2008 annual convention in Toronto.
Kris Vasquez, Alverno professor of psychology, says what she appreciated most about Harrison-Noonan as a student was how she tried to help her classmates reach a higher level of understanding. “She would not only take their perspective but also make a comment or ask a question to bridge the gap,” says Vasquez. “She would provide this kind of support in a collegial, seamless and humble way, so that nobody felt diminished by it but learned more by being in class with her. That is a whole different kind of analysis, but it’s incredibly helpful.”
Now at Google, Harrison-Noonan says the 8 Abilities she sharpened at Alverno are foundational to her role as the primary system administrator for Google’s Academy for Ads, which provides online training for 2.3 million users across 22 different languages. “Thanks to Alverno, I’m always thinking globally and analyzing the products and the localized experiences to make sure they’re meeting the needs of international users.”