Julie Stroh ('73) delivers the keynote address at the anthropology department's 2024 graduation ceremony

Ask Julie Stroh ('73) how her day is going and you will quickly learn what things she cares deeply about. There are more than few, and she seems to find time for them all. On this particular day, Stroh has just returned from New York for her grandchild’s musical theater debut. She has three meetings with her alma maters, U-M and the University of Miami. She serves on the U-M Department of Anthropology’s advancement committee, the UMMA leadership board and the university libraries campaign advocacy circle. She is also the principal and owner of a Miami-based commercial real estate holding company.

Originally from Grosse Pointe, Stroh feels lucky to have "stumbled" into Anthro 101 as a first-semester freshman in the LSA Honors Program. Her instructor was Conrad Kottak, professor emeritus and former department chair.

"It was a real eye-opener to me, this idea of the vastness of human culture," Stroh said. "Later on, as I started taking linguistics classes, guess what? Along with that vast cultural and artistic array, there’s also this vast linguistic array."

Stroh credits her education as a cultural (now sociocultural) anthropology major with her later success navigating Miami’s trilingual manufacturing workforce. She recalls being one of two employees who could communicate with all her coworkers, who spoke English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

"There’s no question in my mind," Stroh said, "that anthropology, language study and linguistics have been a huge help to me because [of] the study of the science of human language and its systems. Having some understanding of linguistics as a social science makes the learning of a language easier because you can see patterns, which is what linguistics is all about."

It was during Professor Kottak’s department chair tenure that Stroh established the Julie Childress Stroh Endowment for Student Support in Anthropology. The endowment supports undergraduate research, resources for which did not exist when Stroh was a student.

"For the last 20 years, part of the income from the endowment supports one or two students per year on their fieldwork, which is really exciting for me to think about," said Stroh.

Stroh delivered the keynote address at anthropology’s 2024 graduation ceremony. While on campus, she was able for the first time to meet current students who have received funds from her endowment. Giving back to U-M at a leadership level was part of a five-year plan Stroh created for herself when she turned 50. (Other items on her list: going back to school for her master’s degree and a career shift to the nonprofit sector.)

As an active alumna and donor (she is a former treasurer and chairman of the board for the Alumni Association of U-M), Stroh brings a unique perspective informed by decades of professional experience in university advancement. She was the senior associate vice president of the University of Central Florida, associate vice president at Ball State University and held several advancement positions at the University of Miami. Over the years, Stroh notes that advancement and alumni relations have evolved from a focus on "school spirit" and entertainment to a focus on service.

"The 'yay/rah' is important, but ultimately what is going to move the needle for the institution reputationally and endowment-wise is service and philanthropy," she explained.

Stroh emphasizes that engagement always precedes philanthropy: knowing and communicating with alumni and providing opportunities for them to engage (or reengage) with the department and each other. She also recognizes that the anthropology department is unique in that many alumni are not anthropologists: They go on to pursue careers in medicine, law, business, social work and liberal arts fields, among others.

"With anthropology, appealing only to anthropologists is not going to be an answer because most of us are not anthropologists. It’s connecting with them in terms of how their anthropology education has helped them in whatever field they have pursued and helping them look in the mirror and see the value of their anthropology education. … 'What has anthropology done for me and how might I give back to the next generation of scholars?' That’s the challenge. Frankly, that’s the mission."