March 17, 2008
Julie Hale: Electrician comes full circuit
By Carol Clark
Julie Hale dropped out of college after her first semester to “take a break.” She never dreamed that break would last more than 20 years. Now project manager for engineering services in Emory’s Facilities Management, Hale is also on the verge of getting her college degree. You could say she took a circuitous route.
She was one of the first women to become an apprentice in the Atlanta chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), during the late 1970s. Apprentices did the grunt work at the electrical contracting firm where she trained, including toting bundles of rigid electrical conduit that weighed 100 pounds. Hale weighed 115 at the time, and some of her male colleagues told her she would never succeed because she was too small. One day they gave her the task of bending a 1.5-inch diameter piece of metal piping by hand. They gathered around to watch as she attempted the task.
Only later did Hale learn it was a trick: hydraulic benders were usually brought in for piping that thick. “I still run into guys I used to work with who tell me that was the funniest day they ever had on the job,” Hale says.
Hale stuck with the rigorous apprenticeship, despite the harassment. She even had energy left over to moonlight as a professional belly dancer at the High Museum and cultural events, wowing audiences with her skill at balancing five swords.
“I’m fascinated by Middle Eastern culture, and dancing gave me so much comfort,” she says, adding that she kept her sideline a secret from her electrical worker colleagues during her apprenticeship. “They would have jumped to the wrong conclusion,” she says, laughing.
After earning her masters license and “graduating” as a member of the IBEW,
Hale ran her own electrical business. She then worked as an electrical inspector for the city of Atlanta, dancing with fire and swords in the evenings at Imperial Fez restaurant, before joining Emory.
During her 12 years here, she’s become a true “insider,” exploring and mapping electrical circuitry and elevator mechanical rooms throughout the campus. She currently heads up maintenance of all of Emory’s elevators, emergency generators, fire alarms and sprinkler systems.
Hale has retired from performance belly dancing, but retains her love for Middle Eastern culture. About a decade ago, she began taking classes at Emory College as a special student, eventually focusing on Arabic language. “After 9/11, it was a very peaceful thing to do in the face of a lot of pain and fear,” she says. “I felt I was doing something for the world.”
Hale is now just a few credits shy of an undergraduate degree in Middle Eastern Studies and is already using what she’s learned to spark new connections between people, most notably during a recent “Journeys” trip of Emory students, staff and faculty to the Middle East.
“The Arabic-speaking people that I met were so touched and happy that I’m learning their language,” she says. “In my own small way, I can be an ambassador of peace.”