Professional growth led Julie Mueller to career college and campus president roles.

By Julie Mueller, Photo courtesy of Universal Technical Institute Austin campus

When I was in my late 20s living in Chicago, I was painfully uncomfortable. I was saddled with $35,000 in student loans after finishing graduate school; I was hardly making any money as a full-time social worker; I had zero free time and zero social life because I was burning the candle at both ends, working two jobs, nights and weekends to make extra money; and many of my friends were getting married when I wasn’t even dating. I was so miserable that I was compelled to stretch beyond my comfort zone and apply for a heavily male-dominated career and technical education position.

Back then, I was not inclined toward anything related to science, technology, engineering or math. I did not know the first thing about working with tools or engines. No one in my family was mechanically or technically inclined, so I did not grow up around anyone with a skilled trade. Also, I attended an all-girls Catholic high school. The only skilled training offered was learning how to cook and bake in home economics class!

Changing and Growing

I decided to “go for it” in 1998 and applied to be the student services director at Universal Technical Institute (UTI) even though I did not feel qualified. I got accepted, and the job was perfect for me. I enjoyed counseling students—helping them with housing, financial needs, improving their study skills and keeping them engaged in school. In the late 1990s, only about 2% of the campus student population was female.

I am thankful I took a giant leap of faith and moved beyond my comfort zone 25 years ago. Otherwise, I would not be serving as president of the UTI Austin campus and leveraging my prior experience as president of the UTI Lisle campus near Chicago.

The UTI Division operates in nine states and is one of the leading providers of career and technical education in automotive; diesel; energy; aviation maintenance; robotics and automation; heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVACR) and nondestructive testing programs. Fortunately, more women are pursuing skilled trade opportunities now, and the percentage of women attending our campus has increased.

Launching a new campus in a new market was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I was a one-woman army for months after moving with my husband to Round Rock and working remotely. I recruited, hired and trained all 35 Austin campus employees with tight timelines and a limited budget. I overcame significant supply-chain challenges and navigated difficulties with contractors and regulatory entities.

Since our Austin campus opened on May 16, 2022, we have successfully launched our programs and hosted major graduation ceremonies that several hundred family members and friends attended. We have collaborated with more than 300 employers to fill high-demand jobs and hosted numerous job fairs. We have welcomed high school students for Women in STEM events, automotive skills competitions and Summer Ignite sessions for high school juniors. The Ignite program is free and enables students to earn credits toward future enrollment at UTI.


Inspiring Others

Witnessing our students’ achievements firsthand is genuinely gratifying. I know that the work my team and I are doing makes a positive difference in the lives of our graduates and for generations to come. I am honored to lead a campus that makes such a meaningful impact.

I thrive on helping high school students and adults achieve their career goals, improve their employment opportunities and enhance their quality of life. Many UTI students become the first members of their families to earn a certification or an associate degree. Military veterans can attend UTI to advance their careers by accessing their Veterans Administration GI Bill benefits.

I have overcome countless obstacles as a petite woman leading a skilled trades school without previous technical knowledge or experience. I am often questioned about my qualifications. I constantly encounter biases, which makes me hyper-aware that I must do everything possible to maintain my credibility.

I am incredibly proud to have been nominated and selected in 2018 by Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to attend a STEM Summit at the White House. I was chosen because of my work with UTI’s STEM programs directed to high school students, veterans and others seeking to explore new career and technical education opportunities.

I do not believe in barriers or limits for myself or others. I believe that disappointments and challenges are opportunities in disguise that pave the way for us to reach new heights.



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