Julie Shepard: SGB’s first female president is still leading

Julie Shepard was a senior when she became the first female president of Pitt’s Student Government Board.

Photo courtesy of Julie Shapard

Julie Shepard was a senior when she became the first female president of Pitt’s Student Government Board.

By Rachel Romac, For The Pitt News

Nearly every student on campus knew the name Julie Shepard in November 1989.

Shepard was a senior when she became the first female president of Pitt’s Student Government Board. But by the time of her election, she had already achieved a considerable amount during her Pitt career, working on the news desk at The Pitt News and as a resident assistant in Holland Hall.

“There’s so many things I’ve been hoping to be able to plan for so long and now, God-willing and Board-willing, they’ll work out,” Shepard said at the time.

And many of her plans did work out — not only in her time at Pitt, but also in her current career. After getting her B.A. in communications and rhetoric in 1990 and her master’s degree in public policy and management in 2003, Shepard became the keystone for many Pittsburgh universities’ alumni associations. Now, she’s a senior manager for the Pittsburgh non-profit, the Pittsburgh Promise.

Shepard grew up in Beaver Falls, a town about 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, where she attended Riverside High School. When it was time to apply to college, there was only one name on the list. And initially, she didn’t want to work in education.

“I really thought I wanted to go into physical therapy … and because a friend of ours who was a physical therapist had gone to Pitt, I decided I wanted to go to Pitt, too,” she said, “and it was the only school I applied to.”

In the spring of her first year at Pitt, however, Shepard switched to a major in communications and rhetoric, which she said suited her better. The same semester, Shepard’s love for writing and leadership led her to become a writer for The Pitt News and a member of the Student Government Board. Later she would take on leadership positions with both organizations, though at different times.

Shepard’s time in the newsroom was a part of her best times at Pitt, she said. She said she had a great time with her fellow writers, describing one time she and her coworkers at the paper took turns going to a less enjoyable class and taking notes. They would study together in the newsroom after “putting the paper to bed,” Shepard said.

“I don’t know if I would’ve made it through that class without everyone who was on The Pitt News at the time taking the class, as well,” she said.

Terry Lucas, the general manager of The Pitt News, worked closely with Shepard in her days working at the news desk, but expressed the significance of her winning SGB president. The legacy of that win still endures, Lucas said.

“Prior to her being SGB president, it was always a guy. I think that she led the way for women here at Pitt to see that the opportunity to be a leader of student government was certainly attainable,” Lucas said.

Joyce Giangarlo, SGB’s adviser in Shepard’s time, recalled Shepard as a very hardworking, focused and fair person — and said she still is to this day. Shepard’s dedication to serving students and her community has been an ever-present quality.

“For her, it’s always been about service. That’s been a driving thing and the essence of her,” Giangarlo said.

Giangarlo said she and Shepard still keep in touch, like Shepard does with many of her former classmates and colleagues.

“When I see her and all of those ones that were a part of [SGB], for me there’s this whole sense of pride,” Giangarlo said. “Not that I had anything to do with it, but man, they turned out okay.”

Since her graduation from Pitt’s public policy and management master’s program in 2003, Shepard has worked for many Pittsburgh universities — including Pitt, Duquesne University, Point Park University and Chatham University. At Pitt, she worked with the Alumni Association and assisted with a number of projects, including the creation of The Pitt News Alumni Council.

Tom Misuraca, Pitt’s assistant director of student life, knew Shepard first as a student and, later, a coworker.

“She was a very formidable young woman. When it came to the things that students wanted and, more importantly, needed, [she was] a definite voice and a very powerful voice for her undergraduate constituents,” Misuraca said.

Now, after 20 years of working in higher education, Shepard said she has found happiness in working for the Pittsburgh Promise, a non-profit organization that provides scholarships for Pittsburgh public school students seeking a post-secondary education.

Shepard’s position as senior manager of annual giving puts her work mostly in community outreach, where she does planning and fundraising to raise money for the organization. Shepard loves feeling like she’s on the front lines of educational efforts in Pittsburgh, she said.

In addition to her work at Pittsburgh promise, she tutors adults through Literacy Pittsburgh, an organization dedicated to the advancement of education and literacy with local adults and families. But she also enjoys ballroom and swing dancing, reading and taking walks around the City, especially near her home in Pittsburgh’s Mt. Washington neighborhood.

Her walks around the City tend to put her work in perspective, Shepard said, because it makes her remember her work plays a part in educating the future workers that will carry out their jobs in the buildings before her. As a former student and a current resident of the City of Pittsburgh, Shepard said she wants her work to strengthen the foundations of the City’s workforce and general livelihood.

“I wholeheartedly believe in the City of Pittsburgh. I lived in the suburbs for a number of years, and decided very deliberately to move into the City, but my passion really is education,” she said. “Anything that I can do to strengthen the educational foundation that both our young people and our adults have, to me, is passion in motion.”