After building a successful professional career in communications, Julie Armstrong ’78 wants to give back and share her knowledge with others, and she is doing just that as a member of this year’s 45th reunion committee.
This is actually Armstrong’s second time serving on a reunion committee; five years ago, she helped plan her class’s 40th reunion.
“Looking back, connecting all the dots, I now understand how my incredible four years at Trinity led me to my two passions—art history and the professional practice of and teaching of communication,” Armstrong says. “At Trinity, I also gained the self-confidence to always consider the possibilities in life and embrace whatever gets thrown at you!”
Coming from Shawnee Mission, Kansas, Armstrong did not know anyone when she arrived on campus, but she did not let that prevent her from diving right into the Trinity University experience, joining intramural tennis, Chi Beta Epsilon, and Alpha Lambda Delta honor society, learning from amazing professors, and making lifelong friends.
Just after finishing her last class before graduating in the Spring 1978, Armstrong decided to sit on the steps of Northrup Hall and soak up the warm, sunny day and found herself lost in thought about what to do with her life.
“Yes, it wasn’t until then that I actually woke up to the reality that there would be life after Trinity,” Armstrong admits. “Unlike today’s college students who are much more career-driven and future-focused, I honestly had not devoted any serious time thinking ahead to my future.”
That very day became the first of many “dots” that were to connect later in Armstrong’s life. Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced at a bulletin board next to her, which was filled with flyers about study abroad, upcoming events, and other Trinity news and information.
“I noticed a flyer with the little pull-off tabs for more info advertising an internship opportunity in Dallas. I stood up, read the flyer, and at that very moment, I knew this was the opportunity for me! Instead of tearing off the little tab, I took the whole flyer,” Armstrong confesses.
That summer, Armstrong started working at the Dallas Art Museum as the Eugene McDermott Curatorial Intern and was then hired as a full-time employee.
“I connected several dots during that time,” Armstrong reflects. “My double majors were close to what I really wanted to pursue, but at that time, Trinity, like many other universities, did not offer an art history or communication major, which I later realized were my real passions. So art and English were as close as I was going to get, and both have served me well.”
Armstrong connected more dots as she was exposed to the public relations department at the museum and worked on special events, publications, and publicity. She soon found herself back in San Antonio with a few art and art history-related jobs under her belt, along with that nagging fear again about what the future held. None of the local art museums had open public relations jobs, but she kept her eyes open.
One day as she waited at the airport, Armstrong perused a discarded San Antonio Express-News and connected the next dot when an advertisement for a public relations/community relations employee at Humana Hospital-San Antonio jumped off the classifieds page. Although Armstrong did not have any healthcare experience, she knew public relations was her calling and ended up getting the job. She went on to receive a master’s degree in communication from St. Mary’s University, and for nearly 25 years, she progressed up the ladder in healthcare communication.
Armstrong was willing to move to advance her career, which eventually took her to Colorado, where she accepted a position as regional director of communications and marketing for the largest healthcare system in the state. She became accredited by the Public Relations Society of America and worked hard to become a leader in the communication profession.
Because healthcare communication is a 24/7 job that often deals with disasters and tragedies, Armstrong eventually felt ready to downshift to a slower pace, so she quit and spent some time traveling the world, engaging her love of art history at many incredible art museums and ancient cultural sites.
“The next dot I connected in my life came when I knew I would always indulge my passion for art, art history, and travel, but I thought it was time for me to give back to younger generations. I realized my tremendous experience in communication might be the key,” Armstrong says.
Aside from supervising interns, Armstrong had no teaching experience, but she networked her way into a full-time position at Colorado State University-Pueblo, teaching public relations, integrated marketing communication, healthcare communication, and more.
“While things were a little shaky at first because I had never ‘taught,’ I quickly overcame my fear when I realized the wealth of knowledge and experience I had from my professional career, coupled with my love of the communication profession, was truly a gift I could give to college students,” Armstrong says. “Teaching at CSU-Pueblo was the greatest dot to connect.”
A few years in, the student body selected Armstrong for the Outstanding Service and Transformative Leadership Award, given “in appreciation for dedicated service, guidance, advocacy, and leadership that has transformed the lives of numerous students at Colorado State University-Pueblo.”
“Among my students were many first-generation college students, including some who were in the College Assistance Migrant Program,” Armstrong explains. “I became a powerful advocate for underserved students and a mentor for all students, especially international students.”
Armstrong spent the past decade as a full-time professor of practice at St. Edward’s University and in their study abroad program at Université catholique de l'Ouest in Angers, France. She was then hired by the University of Arizona to develop a public relations minor for the Department of Communication, which she completed in one year. Finally, she joined the Department of Strategic Communication faculty at Texas Christian University before the COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on her teaching career, as she found teaching over Zoom to be too restrictive. Plus, she wanted to return to Colorado.
Even though she is not currently teaching, Armstrong does not consider herself retired by any means. Among other things, Armstrong is a voracious reader, amateur mycologist, and, most gratifying to her, an artist. Her works have appeared in several shows, and she has even sold a couple of her paintings. She continues to travel, too, and she can hardly wait to return to Trinity this October for Alumni Weekend to celebrate her 45th class reunion.
“I loved my students, and teaching is the most gratifying endeavor I have ever undertaken,” Armstrong says. “I am so grateful for my time at Trinity and the outstanding professors who always challenged me taught me how to think critically, and showed me how to be an inspiration to others. They set me on a path to ‘pay it forward.’”