Although her first career in corporate banking took her around the world, Mendocino College professor of accounting and economics, Julie (Zaina) Finnegan, grew up in Ukiah, and she feels lucky to have a job she loves here, in her hometown. She attended Saint Mary of the Angels elementary school, and Ukiah High School before heading off to Saint Mary's College in Moraga, California, where she earned a B.A. in economics with a minor in Italian.
During her senior year at St. Mary's, she was awarded a full graduate scholarship to continue her studies at the University of Bocconi, Italy, regarded as one of the top business schools in the world. She earned a master's degree in international economics and management from Bocconi, which led to a lucrative career as a relationship manager at Wells Fargo Bank, where she managed $100 million of active assets, including all the fee based products for middle market companies in the home improvement, import/export, hospitality, and tech industries.
Finnegan says: “It was a great experience, and I was good at it; however the pace and stress of that work was unsustainable for me. When you know the night shift cleaning crew better than your own family, it is time to get out.” She took the summer off from banking to figure out her next move. “My first morning off,” she says, “I got a call that Mendocino College (MC) was looking for an economics instructor, and was I interested?” Finnegan taught an economics course part-time, and to her surprise, she found that she absolutely loved teaching. She decided to permanently leave the banking world to join the MC college faculty.
“Most people in my life discouraged me from making such a radical change,” she says. “Some of my friends are still waiting for me to come to my senses and go back to my banking career.” However, she credits her husband, Matt, for supporting her decision. “He encouraged me to give up the money and follow my heart,” she says.
Finnegan taught part-time at MC for two years, until she was hired full-time in 2006. She notes that she has more transfer students in her classes these days, and also more men than when she started teaching. Also, she now teaches all of her courses in both traditional classroom settings and online.
Finnegan grins and says the best part of her job is the coffee! She makes “good Italian coffee” for her morning classes. “Many of my students commute from out of the area, and they have children to get off to school, and other responsibilities,” she explains. “The coffee is a collaborative effort, and it mirrors the workplace, where coffee is almost always available.”
The most challenging part of her job was switching from private industry to government employment. “On many levels it is easier to perform cost benefit analysis and to allocate resources and time when you are dealing with a product rather than someone's education,” she says.
Finnegan is excited about her latest project, promoting an interactive website called Career Cafe, (www.CaCareerCafe.com) which is designed to encourage Ukiah youth, from 5th grade through college, to investigate interesting career paths through real life experiences.
When she is not working, Finnegan enjoys spending time with her family, including husband, Matt, and daughter, Katie Lou, as well as “serious knitting.” She is a future master knitter through the The Knitting Guild of America. She also serves on the Board of Directors of Plowshares as treasurer.