Ambition and Education Light the Way for Julia Dietz

“Many times, I considered quitting school,” says Dietz (HCB, ’18), “but I wanted to model hard work for my son.”

May 24, 2024

Since October 2022, Julia Dietz, who graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Haslam College of Business in 2018 with a BS in marketing, has served as KARM Stores’ director of marketing and communications, the first person to hold that title for the organization. Dietz, however, is no stranger to paving her own way. Over the years, a combination of determination, community support and willingness to make connections have helped her overcome several hardships and establish a path to success.

Determination and Ambition

Growing up in Maryland, Dietz lived in income-based housing with her mother and sister. The family relied on food stamps and hand-me-down clothes, and even experienced periods of homelessness. Dietz became pregnant with her now 20-year-old son during a gap year after high school, and over the next six years, she worked at a call center while raising her son as a single parent. She grew fearful about the direction her life was taking. “I didn’t want to live the same life my mom did,” she says. “I saw how much she struggled.”

Dietz knew higher education could open doors to more opportunities. At age 25, she enrolled in Allegany College of Maryland (ACM). 

For three years, with loved ones pitching in to help with her son, she worked a variety of full-time jobs and took a combination of online and in-person classes to accommodate her hectic schedule. In May 2014, after earning enough credits for four associate’s degrees — in business administration, accounting, technical office studies and general studies — she graduated with a 3.95 GPA.

Along the way, Dietz discovered a passion for marketing. “I love the creativity in finding new ways to reach people and figuring out what messages to use. It’s exciting to think, ‘What haven’t we said about this [brand] before? How can we make it appeal to the consumer in a different way?’”

Buoyed by that enthusiasm and her success at ACM, she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Having roots in both Tennessee and the Appalachian region of Western Maryland, she felt drawn to Rocky Top. “It just seemed like the perfect place for me,” she says. “I applied to other schools, but as soon as I got my acceptance from UT, my decision was made.” 

Modeling Hard Work

In summer 2014, Dietz and her 9-year-old son relocated to Knoxville, where they knew no one. She attended in-person classes on a half-time basis while working full-time, rising early to get her son ready for school and staying up late to do homework after he went to bed. She joined a church and leaned on that community for support. “Many times, I considered quitting school,” she says, “but I wanted to model hard work for my son.”

She stuck with it, graduated from UT in December 2018 (“I only got two Bs — the rest were As,” she says with pride) and soon landed a marketing coordinator role at a plastic surgery practice. During her six months there, she attended a conference, where she met representatives from a marketing agency specializing in medical and aesthetic devices. That connection paid off — a few months later, the firm invited her to apply for a job, which she held for the next three years.

As an extrovert, Dietz says making those kinds of connections comes naturally to her. For those who feel uncomfortable with it, she advises, “Treat networking like an interview. Preparation is the key to confidence, so think ahead and tell yourself, ‘If I meet someone from this particular company, I’m going to ask these specific questions,’ or ‘These are some points I saw on their website that I’d love to talk to them about.’ Have a clear idea of what you want to get out of it.”

Focus on the Future

In January 2022, always eager to expand her skillset, Dietz began working toward a BA in communications through Southern New Hampshire University’s online program. She continued her studies even after landing her current position at KARM Stores, finishing her sixth degree in August 2023.

Through all her pursuits and accomplishments, she has maintained ties with UT and Haslam. Julie Ferrera collaborated with Dietz to have students work on Google Ads for KARM Stores, and in spring 2024, Dietz guest lectured in several of Cindy Raines’ classes. She enjoyed being at the front of the classroom and says she can imagine herself possibly becoming a teacher someday. 

For now, Dietz is ready to enjoy a less hectic schedule. “I’ve been doing the full-time job, full-time school, full-time mom thing for so long,” she says. “Now I just want to focus on my job and have some fun.”


Stacy Estep, writer/publicist,