Staff feature: Meet Julian Steele

Onboarding Coordinator Julian Steele

Please give us a brief overview of your academic and professional backgrounds.

I am a higher education student affairs professional by training and trade. I graduated in May 2019 from the Master’s in Student Affairs Administration program at Lewis & Clark College here in Portland.

Like many of my colleagues, I caught the “student affairs bug” during my undergrad education. At Sacramento State University, I served as a peer mentor for first-generation college students, and as a tutor in the writing center. This experience impressed upon me how critical co-curricular supports are for the most vulnerable college students. The professor track isn’t for everyone, but there are other ways to be an educator to college students.

Still, it wasn’t a direct path for me from peer mentor to onboarding and student success specialist. I took a detour into the digital marketing world for a few years after undergrad. Turns out that wasn’t the path for me, but I picked up many transferable skills. If you think about it, so much of what we do in student services is marketing: Influencing students to spend their time and attention in ways we believe will support their long-term success.  (Is everything public in life a form of marketing?)

What are your areas of passion and expertise in The School of Business?

My role is charged with onboarding and student success, and most of my work with students takes place in the time between admission and orientation. I love having conversations around students’ goals and passions, and helping them strategize how they can get the most out of their program experience. As a recent graduate student myself, I can connect with folks on a personal level around this new phase of their life. Those personal connections are the most rewarding part of my job.

On the more technical side, I love working with data and institutional systems. Designing surveys and assessments, creating reports on data and trends, and strategizing data-informed responses to structural challenges are all parts of my work that I enjoy immensely. The way my role splits interpersonal relationships and systems work is ideal for me.

What do you enjoy most about working in The School of Business?

The people and the mission. During my grad program, I hadn’t considered graduate business education services as the space I would end up. As a student, my experiences and interests were more toward access-focused, foundational education like community college and public four-year undergraduate institutions. If you had asked that Julian about working in graduate business education, he probably would have thought you were asking him to participate in the reproduction of privilege and inequality.

I quickly learned that at Portland State, graduate business education is rooted in values of access, equity and socially-conscious change influence. It’s not “business as usual” here. Others across the higher ed landscape have been positioning themselves toward similar values for some time. In my experience, though, it’s still rare that those values truly live in the people, practices and leadership responsible for carrying them through. These values live here.

What does “redefining business” mean to you?

Who gets to participate and to what end. Changing what a business leader “looks like” in the mind’s eye of our collective culture. Building others up and making more space at the table rather than each jealously guarding “their” corner of the economy.

What can students do to best prepare for the first day of their programs?

1. Ask yourself what you are most nervous about. Are you newer to the business world? A little shaky on your math? Only “kinda” know how to use Excel? There are many free and low-cost ways to skill up available online — make a commitment to yourself to get some practice and build your confidence before you get busy with your program.

2. Plan out your weekly schedule as much as possible. Everyone balances work and school a bit differently at the graduate level, so your plan will be unique — just make sure it works for you.

Work, school and personal responsibilities will balloon to fill whatever time you have, so make sure you protect some. You need time to decompress, and also for unstructured reflection, visioning, dreaming. Whatever you want to call it,  make sure you have time to check in with yourself: Are you developing skills in a way that feels right? If not, reach out —  to a faculty member, staff person, professional mentor or respected peer.

Can students still reach out to you even after they’ve onboarded? How?

Absolutely! After orientation students are fully onboarded but I love to hear how students are progressing and talk through anything on their mind. We are on remote operations currently, but usually I am always happy to chat if a student stops by our office. Anyone can also drop a note in my inbox at

When you are not working, what do you do in your free time?

You’ll find me out on a bike trail, near the front of a concert, sipping a microbrew, glued to the TV, nose in a book, hands deep in garden soil, sprawled on the beach, browsing a thrift shop or mixing an experimental cocktail.

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