For over a decade, Julie Walas has worked in Syracuse University’s School of Information. But, since June 2016, Walas has held the title of Director of Student and Alumni Engagement. A position unique to the iSchool, and one that she loves dearly.
“My whole job revolves around interesting and meaningful and fun ways to connect our alums and our current students, so that it’s mutually beneficial for both parties,” she explained.
One of her favorite parts of the job is taking students on trips to see alumni at work in some truly interesting cities across the country.
“It’s not a new concept,” Walas said. “Students go on field trips all the time when they’re in elementary school, but then we kind of stop that … When it comes to college we’re organizing so much on campus that we forget to look at the world around us.”
Two weeks ago, Walas was accompanying a few dozen students on a trip in Washington D.C. Amidst the chaos of bus travel and hotel reservations, she finally got a free moment to check her email. That’s when she saw a message from university chancellor, Kent Syverud.
“So, I clicked on it thinking it was going to be the notification letter, and it was addressed to me personally,” she exclaimed. “I was floored. I kept telling my colleague, ‘this can’t be right, this must be something different.'”
But it wasn’t. Walas had been selected to receive the Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence in Outstanding Contributions to the Student Experience and University Initiatives at the One University Awards.
“It’s been so humbling,” she said. “I don’t know another word more significant than humbling, but if feels more than that.”
“I don’t feel like I deserve this more than any other person that works really hard at this University, too,” she continued. “But, I think what it has forced me to do is pause and acknowledge some of these people that have been impacted by the work that I’ve done.”
In addition to helping students navigate their post-graduate plans in the iSchool, she has also served as the coach for the student-athletes that represent the university as Otto the Orange.
For the past eleven seasons, Walas has had, what she describes as the privilege, to mentor these young adults and foster a sense of community amongst them.
“I think I love the family that Otto creates,” she said. “The smaller, really tight-knit, a little bit secretive family that has grown so much over the last eleven years.”
But, if you ask some former Ottos, they will argue that it’s Julie that creates the sense of family.
“The moment I found Julie and I found the team, I just felt I knew I was home,” senior Teagan Peacock said. “It’s been so much more than being a student athlete. It’s been like a friendship.”
“We’re away from home, don’t necessarily have our families here,” senior Michael Lehr explained. “But, we have Julie and people like Julie at this university that can kind of takes us in as part of their family and make us feel at home on campus.”
Walas never thinks of her second position as a full-time job, but sometimes it certainly feels like it.
“Otto never has a day off,” she said. “There are zero vacation days from Otto.”
Still, she cannot imagine the day when she would have to pick one over the other.
“No,” she said immediately. “I’m sure it will come and I’m sure it will work itself out, but I’m not ready to say goodbye yet.”