For Julie Walas, director of student and alumni engagement at the School of Information Studies (iSchool), last Friday was a busy day. She was leading the iSchool’s Spring Road Trip in Washington D.C., helping to manage 40 students as they moved from one site visit to another, and had just retrieved her cell phone from storage during the group’s visit to the Department of Defense.
“We had been in total technology lockdown at the DoD, so I was quickly scrolling through my phone as we headed to our next visit, looking for important e-mails, when I saw the notification,” said Walas.
That notification was from Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud, and it informed Walas that she had been selected to receive the 2018 Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence in the category of Outstanding Contributions to the Student Experience and University Initiatives.
“I was surprised to say the least, I didn’t believe it at first,” said Walas, who initially thought the e-mail only contained details about the upcoming awards ceremony. “When I opened the note to find it addressed to me, I was pretty shocked!”
The Chancellor’s Citation for Excellence is a yearly award that seeks to recognize members of the University community who have made invaluable contributions to Syracuse in two overarching ways — first through commitment to scholarship and research that contributes to new understandings of world and creative responses to its needs; and second, through advancing the four pillars that Chancellor Kent Syverud has identified to foster excellence at Syracuse University. Those four pillars of excellence are: providing an outstanding undergraduate experience; empowering research excellence; fostering change and innovation; and positioning Syracuse as the best university in the world for veterans.
Walas has served as the iSchool’s director for student and alumni engagement since June, 2016. Prior to that, she worked for the iSchool in various student-facing positions for nearly 10 years, including time as director of undergraduate recruitment, undergraduate programs manager, and director of student advising.
“I love my current role at the iSchool, because it allows me to create really exciting opportunities that allow students and alumni to interact in meaningful ways,” said Walas. “Ways that are mutually beneficial for both parties.”
In addition to her position at the iSchool, Walas also serves as the coach for Syracuse University’s Otto the Orange mascot program. As coach, Walas selects, trains, and mentors the student athletes each semester as they represent Syracuse as Otto.
Although Walas has had many responsibilities on campus, the overarching theme of connecting students has run throughout them.
“I think that the common thread for me is helping students find that spark of inspiration, connection, or direction,” explained Walas. “Whether it’s helping our seniors inspire their peers to build a long-lasting community, or working with the Ottos to help them learn how to spread Orange spirit to thousands of fans, it’s being a tiny piece of how these students evolve during their time here, and take the opportunities that Syracuse provides – it’s all a motivation for me.”
With her current position encompassing work with iSchool alumni, Walas has been able to see her career come full circle.
“My students have grown up and they’ve become alumni,” said Walas. “There are students I’ve recruited, some I’ve known since their sophomore year in high school and now they’re hosting our current students on our immersion experiences, it’s amazing to see.”
That amazement extends to her work as mascot coach, too.
“When we have new Ottos come onto the team, it’s exciting because we also work with alumni and current Ottos to welcome them on board, it’s an emotionally charged time," Walas explained. “They’re all waiting in the Carrier Dome, cheering as the new Ottos come out onto the field, it’s just an awesome moment to watch the generations welcome each other. I like the excitement, the excitement is what drives me.”
“The students have taught me everything, I don’t know who I would be without interacting with our students,” said Walas. “Sure, they keep me up to date on cool phrases and music, but what they really teach me is the value of investing in people. They show me what can come from giving a little extra time, attention, or love, and how it can have a big impact on a student.”
“I’m tremendously proud of Julie and all of her accomplishments, and thrilled that she has been selected by Chancellor Syverud for this award,” said iSchool Dean Liz Liddy. “I have watched Julie grow in her career here with us as she’s expanded her work with our students, and is now bringing that same energy and enthusiasm to our alumni. I can’t wait to see where she takes things from here!”
“While I’m humbled to receive this award, I could never have achieved so much impact without the support of my iSchool family – the collaborative staff and faculty and especially Dean Liddy’s willingness to say ‘yes’ to new ideas,” said Walas. “I’m able to engage the students and activate the alumni because of everyone working together – this isn’t just my award, this is recognition for a greater job well done and the growth of the iSchool over the last 10 years. A growth, enthusiasm and spirit that I’m really grateful to be a part of.”
Walas will be officially recognized with the award at the annual One University Awards Ceremony on Friday, April 20 at 4:00 p.m. in Hendricks Chapel.
“The first people I called to invite to the ceremony were my parents,” Walas remarked. “They were so happy for me, and my mom said, ‘I’ll be there with bells on!’ I said, ‘Mom, don’t wear bells, just wear orange!’”