On Leadership: Q&A with Director of Career Development Julia Zupko

March 17, 2021

This month, we sat down with Director of Career Development Julia Zupko to hear about her leadership journey and favorite part about coaching Scholars.

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you become interested in career development and what drew you to Schwarzman Scholars?  

My work has always been focused on enabling people and systems to increase their trajectories – combining my deep commitment to others and my love of “building from scratch”. Those interests led to my start in healthcare, where I worked on technology driven approaches to patient centered initiatives and optimizing Medicaid service delivery. Moving into higher education allowed me to connect on a more personal level to talent, resources and opportunities globally and, over 15 years, learn best practices and approaches from around the world. Schwarzman Scholars was the first time I was afforded an opportunity to live abroad. After a six-month contract I jumped at the chance to contribute during the program’s inaugural year, focusing on a mission for global impact that truly resonated with me. I am motivated every day by our Scholars’ commitment to pursue life’s possibilities and I enjoy the engagement I have with them to identify and apply their leadership talents across cultures, countries, sectors, and industries.    

How have you grown as a leader in your current position?  

Sitting at the nexus of China and the world’s access to the next generation of global leaders means helping Scholars navigate different cultures, governance structures, and approaches to impact around the world. In order to do that successfully, I’ve had to become much more humble about what I do, and do not, know. Coming up to speed quickly is a must – I’ve learned as much in the last five years as the last 15 years combined!  Additionally, I’ve experienced first-hand how to live and work in an environment, culture and language not native to me. My family and I rely on other people to support us every day. We are immensely grateful to the staff, faculty, students and friends we have made in China who have taken time, effort, and energy out of their busy lives to enable us to take full advantage of life in Asia in order to avoid the “expat bubble” as much as possible!  

You spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring Scholars 1:1. What’s your best advice for developing a leadership narrative and qualities in today’s world?  

My first session with Scholars poses the question “Why Are You Here and Not Somewhere Else?”. My best advice is to reflect on why you are choosing to do various activities, and let those values and interests be your guiding light in making decisions about your future. I liken the career path to a jungle gym, whereby Scholars will move up, down, sideways, and realize there are many paths to their goal at the top – but following your own “Why” keeps you on track. Ultimately your potential (and happiness) is defined by what motivates you day to day, not the titles of jobs or names of workplaces that are listed on your CV.   

What would you like prospective applicants to know about career development opportunities at Schwarzman Scholars?  

Schwarzman Scholars are differentiated by their drive towards goals they have set for themselves. The Career Development team is positioned to help Scholars identify those goals, develop the best approaches to pursue them, and provide structure to an often-unstructured process. We support Scholar entrepreneurs, those continuing education in fields ranging from law, to medicine, to public policy, and job searches across sectors, industries, and geographies. We aim to be a trusted and valued resource for students and alumni on their professional journeys and be recognized by the world as a top source for talent.  Given the diversity of Scholar interests year over year, we compliment a bespoke coaching approach with dynamic programs that engage Scholars in active learning/practice-based models for growth. Beyond opportunities related directly to post-program endeavors, the Career Development team facilitates access to institutional relationships through events and programs featuring corporate connections, mentors, alumni, and key stakeholders.  

What is your favorite part of working with Schwarzman Scholars? 

My favorite part of working with Schwarzman Scholars is my full immersion in the Community provided through life at the College. In the past, I knew students in only one context – the job search. At Schwarzman College, I discuss favorite books over breakfast, travel adventures over lunch and the best new restaurants at dinner. Lively evening discussions have provided me with great insight into the lives and perspectives of Scholars and faculty. My family has been equally engaged – my partner has been a bass player in every Schwarzman band and Scholars have taught my daughters everything from materials science to how to cook traditional regional dishes.    

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 

You’ll find me curled up with a good book, trying out a new recipe, or playing board games with my family.  

What’s one fact nobody would know about you from reading your resume?  

I regularly make sushi at home; I took multiple sushi making classes in my early twenties.