Before vice chancellor of student affairs Julie Wong arrived two years ago, she was preparing to travel the world on Semester at Sea. Today she oversees a multitude of departments from Wardenburg Health Center to the Alumni Association. Coloradan editor Tori Peglar (MJour’00) spoke with her about students, moonlit hikes and following her passions.
Why are you interested in Semester at Sea?
I had been dean of students at two universities and loved being around students. But I started thinking in my previous job at Texas [in El Paso], “What would I regret not doing in my life?” I had never studied abroad. So I applied for a Semester at Sea position. They offered me the position, but before I could take a leave of absence to do Semester at Sea I landed my dream job at CU.
It’s in my contract to go on Semester at Sea, but as I get into my job things have gotten increasingly complex. It was fate to have this job. I had been pursuing my passions — traveling and being in a community of students. And I still get to do that, just not yet “at sea”!
What did you learn from the job-search process?
When I interviewed, I was completely myself. Life is a journey, and I got to a place where I felt, “This is me. This is who I am.” I wasn’t saying things to be “right.”
What is a typical day for you?
It’s not a job where I sit at a desk all day. I interact with staff, students, faculty and donors. I am part of the [chancellor’s] cabinet where we talk about new initiatives. I couldn’t ask for a better environment. CU has sports, Nobel laureates, many different majors that attract a diverse group of students, and that’s what creates a vibrant university.
What’s most rewarding about your work?
I meet students and welcome them and their parents and watch students grow and find internships and jobs after college. My favorite part is orientation. Going to college is a rite of passage. Students come to CU from all over the world, and we challenge them to get involved. We tell them, “You can do anything.”
What are the biggest challenges?
The budget.You have these big dreams and goals of developing leaders and then you have cutbacks. You need to keep your staff motivated, but you don’t always have the funds to do what you want.
Another challenge is we want everyone to be involved. We offer a lot of student support services for the top scholars and for those challenged academically. But what about the middle group? I want that average person to find [his or her] way. My greatest worry is having them fall through the cracks.
What do you do outside of work?
I joined the Highland City Club, a social and educational club. We have lectures, movie nights, wine tastings. It’s full of very well-traveled people and entrepreneurs. We do night hikes. We all bring flashlights. A chef provides a picnic dinner under the moon. We don’t do it when it snows.