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An interview by Surabhi Gaur '03, April 2, 2001.
Our WISP alumna find themselves on and off the beaten path, but the path of this particular alumnae has brought her geographically close to her Dartmouth roots. Welcome to the world of Julia Russell, D'83, computer programmer/analyst with the University of Vermont. She works in the budget office of the university, devising programs that manage the budget and analyze financial matters. Julia is originally from the Washington, D.C. area and now resides in nearby Vermont with her husband and three children.
Julia was a computer science major, modified with mathematics, at Dartmouth. As a youngster, Julia showed interest and promise in math. Her natural capabilities were better exercised in middle school where she was in a program for accelerated math with the advantage of a smaller class size and consequently received "a lot of individual attention." As seems to be a trend with our alumna, recognition of potential and interest in mathematics and sciences at an early age is key in developing these interests. Julia was quick to mention a mentor of hers who was instrumental to the advancement of her learning: her calculus teacher in high school, Marty Coin. Julia raved about him, saying that "he was just awesome, really involved, really caring; he made a huge difference." Teachers like him reinforce interests and guide young minds.
"As seems to be a trend with our alumna, recognition of potential and interest in mathematics and sciences at an early age is key in developing these interests."
Julia was refreshingly honest in acknowledging the pressures of the rigorous competition that students face at Dartmouth. Julia admitted that "the whole first year was rough." She was correct in realizing that everyone at Dartmouth had been at the top of their class and unfortunately, she quipped, "Somebody's gotta be in the bottom half!" She remembers being "very intimidated by people" but then that did not last long. Julia remembers that everything changed after her sophomore fall which she spent on an LSA to Germany. Naturally, it was not an easy experience being without close family and friends in a country whose language was not her area of expertise. She recalls, however, that "during that term, I had to draw upon my own inner resources" to survive and enjoy her trip to Germany. On the whole, the LSA was a confidence boost. Julia recognized her own strengths and felt stronger upon her return to Dartmouth. She asserted, "I was able to choose the courses I wanted to take, regardless of who else was going to be in them." The intimidation factor disappeared and Julia continued to enjoy, learn, grow and excel the remainder of her time at Dartmouth.
Even towards the end of her Dartmouth career, Julia admits that she "didn't know what was out there" in respect to computer-related jobs. She did not have a distinct focus, just knew that she "wanted to do something with programming." As it came closer to graduation, Julia began writing to companies in hopes of finding a job. As far as the job hunt went, Julia remembers that her "theoretical computer science background wasn't so much in demand." An employee experienced in the application of the theory was a better catch at the time (a heads up to any computer science majors reading this, perhaps). Julia also emphasized, "Dartmouth's name meant an awful lot." She also said, "They [employers] valued the liberal arts background," because a Dartmouth graduate is exposed to many different ways of thinking by the array of courses they take.
The fruit of her job search was a job with Polaroid. Julia lived and worked in Massachusetts for a while. During her time at Polaroid she worked in their programming, manufacturing and purchasing departments, putting her computer knowledge to profitable use. Also while she was working in Massachusetts, she earned her MBA from Boston University. Julia was married and had a growing family while she was in Massachusetts. She had a set of twin girls and proceeded to work part-time. However, her career at Polaroid and her husband's being an engineer grew stressful and eventually they found themselves in quiet Vermont. Julia finds her job quite rewarding. She confided to me with a twinge of guilt, "Sometimes I think I'm the only one in this office who gets to be creative!" She continued to say, "You create it [a program] from the ground up" and was happy when she realized that "people are actually going to use this stuff." Even with her satisfying career, Julia is still in school. She is pursuing her doctorate in education. The focus of her studies is to find ways to encourage middle school aged girls to take interest in math and science.
If Julia could change anything of her college years, she would make a better effort to reach out to her professors. She stressed that students should not feel meek in front of Dartmouth professors; rather, they should take advantage of the fact we have great thinkers and dedicated teachers at this institution. Julia also left me with an insightful piece of advice. She said that she has to fight the urge to "do everything simultaneously." In other words, there is not always time to do everything all at once. She has realized over the years, however, that "things start to weave back into life." If at one point we sacrifice a hobby for a class, there will come a time when we will have time for that hobby. Maybe not the next week, or the next term, but at some point. Julia commented, "It's easy to get frustrated when things don't fit in. Just have faith that eventually, it'll find its way back in." Comforting words from an accomplished woman.
Julia welcomes contact from our readers. She can be reached via e-mail, at email@example.com.
Last Updated: 10/20/10