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Volunteer at Heart

At the Haslam College of Business or on her mountain bike, Julie Ferrara gets joy from helping people.

October 29, 2019

Julie Ferrara is a lecturer and assistant department head for the Department of Business Analytics and Statistics.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in both marketing and statistics as well as a master’s degree in statistics from UT. After college she moved to Arizona where she spent three years working as a statistician at Intel and four years working at Cardinal Path, a start-up company that did web analytics and website conversion testing.

Responsible for on-the-job trouble-shooting, Ferrara realized how much she had to learn by doing. When she returned to UT as a lecturer in business analytics in 2011, she knew she wanted to give her students as much hands-on learning experience as possible.

Ferrara has translated her own experience into a class—Search Engine Marketing: Paid Search Advertising Management and Optimization Strategies—that gives students hands-on experience providing marketing services for a group of nonprofit organizations. It was one of the first courses at UT to receive a service–learning designation through the Experience Learning initiative.

It’s a win-win-win arrangement.

The students gain marketable skills while also experiencing the satisfaction of volunteering their time to help others. The nonprofits get significant help at no cost, and the community benefits as the nonprofits grow and thrive.

This fall, Ferrara’s students worked with seven nonprofits: Knox Heritage, Legacy Parks Foundation, Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, Restoration House, Appalachian Mountain Bike Club, Knox Area Rescue Ministries, and The Joy of Music School. The students created, managed, and optimized online marketing campaigns for these organizations using a set budget.

Although she said a few students each semester find it difficult to move beyond traditional book learning, most thrive in a class that requires them to gather information from their clients, strategize, monitor the results, and collect data to revise and improve their marketing campaigns.

“I tell them, ‘I’m actually making you use your brains. I trust your intelligence.’”

Some students have told her the experience they gained in her class helped them land interviews, and in some cases, jobs.

Ferrara said she eventually would like to take her class efforts a step further, creating a low-cost nonprofit consulting center through which students from a variety of disciplines could apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to provide marketing, accounting, communications, web management, and other services to nonprofit organizations.

Ferrara said the center, like her class, would have the side benefit of nurturing community volunteers.

“I want to show students that the skills they are learning here at UT will help them give back throughout their lives.”

In her role as assistant department head, Ferrara also oversees the nonacademic components of the department—things like travel, budgeting, and HR issues. She also finds satisfaction in being a helper through this administrative work that allows the department’s faculty to devote more time to research and teaching.

Outside of UT, Ferrara also uses her favorite pastime—mountain biking—to help others.

She serves as an ambassador for Liv Cycling, a company built by women for women.

“They have completely designed their bikes from the ground up for women,” she said.

As an ambassador, she helps women learn to mountain bike. That means helping them overcome the fear of being on a bike, teaching them correct biking posture, and showing them how to ride on difficult terrain.

Ferrara said her reward is watching women develop the confidence to ride on their own.

“Whether it’s in the classroom or on a bike, we become better through hands-on experience,” she said.


UT 225th anniversaryThis story is part of the University of Tennessee’s 225th anniversary celebration. Volunteers light the way for others across Tennessee and throughout the world.

Learn more about UT’s 225th anniversary

Produced by The Office of Communications and Marketing

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