Julia studied marine biology at the College of Charleston before embarking on an early career as a teaching naturalist in Maine at The Environmental Schools and the Acadia Institute of Oceanography.
She then served as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer in Guinea, West Africa, living for two years in the remote village of Wassaya, where she worked with local farmers to launch a sustainable beekeeping project and established tree nurseries to promote woodlands conservation in her community. Upon her return from Africa, Julia worked for the Geothermal Energy Association in Washington, DC, where she conducted research on renewable energy technology issues.
Julia earned her masters degree in environmental management at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, focusing on conservation and community-based natural resource management, for which she received the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation Conservation Fellowship, the Alumni Association Award for Academic Performance, Leadership, and Character, and the Nicholas School of the Environment Merit Award. While at Duke, Julia interned in Bozeman, Montana, as a Conservation Fellow with the Sonoran Institute, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, and Montana State University, where she conducted research on the ecological impacts of rural residential development on the Greater Yellow Ecosystem.
After graduate school, Julia returned to Washington, DC, where she joined Chemonics International, managing a wide range of U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.K. Department for International Development (DfID) projects throughout Africa, with extensive field experience in Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal. Julia also managed the company's environmental services practice network and oversaw an umbrella contract providing technical assistance in natural resource management and biodiversity conservation. Julia also conducted technical work in the field, including performing a biodiversity and tropical forestry assessment for Guinea and traveling throughout Senegal to assess opportunities for community-based natural resource management.