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Oct 11, 2021 2021-10 Faculty Finance

Next chapters — The art of taking a risk

If you worked anywhere at the University of Illinois in the past decade, your life was probably impacted by Julia Hart. “I am the person who brought SharePoint to all three universities in the System,” said Hart, who was working as a network analyst at the U of I Administrative Information Technology Services when she was asked to helm the project. It was her first job at the University after 18 years of working for the City of Champaign.

“I have always been a risk-taker,” said Hart, who readily accepted the task without knowing how much would be involved. With no budget, no dedicated team, and no roadmap to speak of, she assembled a group of nearly 20 volunteers to create a system that would allow all three campuses to collaborate. And somehow, it all came together. “I had no experience with any of it,” said Hart, who led and assisted the team that designed, developed, and programed the system servers. “But I didn’t really look at it like it was hard, because I was enjoying learning.”

As the new director of the Women in Finance Academy, Hart hopes to encourage the next generation of women in business to embrace challenge, taking the big risks that lead to big rewards.  The Academy offers extracurricular programming to help women explore career paths, build skills for success, and connect with other female students, alumni, and professionals.

For Hart, taking on that project — and many that followed — led to a lot of interesting opportunities, from directing information management and institutional research at the University of Illinois Graduate College, to directing IT for Facilities and Services and serving as the site director for COUNTRY Financial DigitaLab at Research Park.

“I think sometimes as women we’re a little bit more hesitant to take a risk — afraid of failure a little bit more,” said Hart. “I hope to teach them that it’s OK to not know everything. It’s OK to take a risk and to move forward.”

For the past several years, Hart — who holds a masters in management information systems from the University of Illinois at Springfield and a doctorate in education from UIUC — has been a frequent guest speaker in several courses at the School of Information Services. In 2018 she joined the school’s faculty part-time as an adjunct professor. And now, she’s bringing all of that experience to Gies.

Currently the academy has just one class, FIN 490: Special Topics in Finance. But Hart hopes to build on that solid base, opening new opportunities for women in finance. “There’s a lot of flexibility and openness at Gies to mold this academy and make it something bigger,” said Hart. “One of the reasons I wanted to join Gies is because they’re doing such innovative things, and I see them really trying to push the envelope and move us forward.”

Ironically, just as a new chapter of her life opened at Illinois, an earlier one drew to a close. In July, it was announced that SharePoint had reached the end of the road and would officially be decommissioned. Like many other operations, it’s being moved to the cloud. But for 11 years, it was more than a campus mainstay; for Hart, it was proof that great things can be accomplished if you’re willing to take on a challenge. “They said it was one of the longest-standing and most successful shared service the campus had seen,” Hart said, looking back fondly on the project that shaped her early career. “I never thought in a million years it would be that big of a deal. But it turned out to be a big deal.”