Cori Zarek (01BA, 05JD) is a public interest technologist and lawyer whose role in helping governments maximize technology and strive for greater transparency has taken her to the White House—and around the world.
An expert on everything from technology strategies and digital rights to freedom of information, Zarek has worked to transform both government and the private sector. She also has assisted numerous countries in crafting policies related to technology, transparency, and press freedom.
Zarek completed both her bachelor's and law degrees at Iowa. As an undergraduate, she rose from reporter to editor-in-chief of The Daily Iowan, and after law school, she became a legal fellow for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C. She eventually became that organization's freedom of information director before accepting a role as attorney advisor for the United States National Archives and Records Administration in 2009.
She joined President Obama's White House in 2013, first as senior advisor for open government and then as deputy U.S. chief technology officer. While there, Zarek helped improved how the federal government uses data and technology to deliver its mission.
In addition, she led the nation's involvement in the Open Government Partnership, a global collaboration that empowers citizens, combats corruption, and harnesses new technologies. As part of that initiative, Zarek represented the United States at global summits in Mexico, South Africa, and France, and she also traveled to more than a dozen countries to advise on open government and technology. Such efforts earned her induction into the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame in 2016.
Today, Zarek is on the faculty at Georgetown University and serves as director of data and digital for its Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. In that role, she helped create the U.S. Digital Response organization during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also is president of the board of MuckRock, a nonprofit news organization.
"Cori's name is synonymous with freedom of information and open government," says Randy Evans (72BA), executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. "She's an outstanding University of Iowa representative and has lived and worked in a manner that combines service, leadership, and humility."
Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.