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Behind the Research: Julie Hickman

About the feature

Many people are involved in the remarkable range of programs, services and facilities that undergird research in the College of Agriculture. Collectively they’re integral to the college fulfilling its research mission. “Behind the Research” explores their individual roles. Each academic year, we profile six people whose work supports the College of Agriculture’s global reputation for developing innovative, multidisciplinary solutions to challenges and then putting those solutions into action.

Julie Hickman, College of Agriculture director of facilities and planning

• Leads master planning for the College of Agriculture to foster circulation and collaboration.

• Spearheads and facilitates the design and construction of new facilities and renovations tailored to meet the needs of faculty, staff and students in the College of Agriculture.

• Works to recognize and support off-campus facilities, including the Agronomy Center for Research & Education, Animal Sciences Research and Education Center, and Forestry and Natural Resource properties, and toward a closer connection with the Purdue Agricultural Centers.

Julie Hickman is disappointed to realize it’s already Thursday. She momentarily thought it was Wednesday and was happy to have an “extra” day to get more done. Losing track of her weekdays reflects both Hickman’s schedule and enthusiasm for her work: “I have a job that I absolutely enjoy doing,” she says.

As the College of Agriculture’s director of facilities and planning, Hickman leads the creation and renovation of a wide range of spaces — offices, labs, greenhouses, even solar panels. She reports to Ron Turco, associate dean and director of agricultural research and graduate education.

“I am here to assist faculty, staff and department heads on medium and large projects that support their research needs,” Hickman says. “Any kind of facility needs or connections that they might need help with — that’s what I do.”

Hickman grew up in Pennsylvania and came to Purdue, where her parents met, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture. “I chose landscape architecture because I like how people and spaces relate together and helping to improve those,” she says. She later earned a master’s degree in technology leadership and innovation at Purdue.

Hickman joined the physical facilities department as a landscape designer and project manager in September 2000. Four years in, she was given a choice of focusing on either landscaping or project management and opted for the latter. “I’m an extrovert and love working with people,” she explains.

In 2013, she joined the college as project manager and helped kick off plant sciences projects, meeting with faculty and staff, and ultimately building the Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center, Ag Alumni Seed Phenotyping Facility, and many other plant science lab and space renovations.

Four years later, her job pivoted again to add all College of Agriculture capital projects and renovations. Hickman works with all departments and units on large facilities — one example is the new agricultural and biological engineering building — and initiatives like creating better collaboration spaces.

“We have some great facilities and some not-so-great facilities on campus,” she says. “My current role is to improve and make those facilities work for our researchers.”

She and her colleague Tony Mull, agriculture facilities construction and space management coordinator, handle larger building, mechanical and renovation projects. Building deputies in agricultural facilities manage smaller projects and repairs. “Our building deputies here in the College of Agriculture are the best in the entire university,” says Hickman, who stays in close contact with them.

She championed a team who recently named and numbered every building off campus to expedite work orders for repairs and preventive maintenance, growing the system from about 70 buildings to 300. “Our next step is getting a floor plan for every one of those buildings drawn and added to space management,” she adds.

Hickman’s job brings her into contact with “everybody,” she says. “I’m a facilitator. Buildings are just one of the things that can be tools to create opportunities to link people together.”

She also is an advocate for off-campus research. “Research is research, no matter where research is happening,” she says. She cites as an example a hydroponic container farm currently

under construction at the at the Purdue Student Farm. “It’s very important that off-campus research is recognized and supported.”

The greatest challenges in her job are red tape and finances, she says, noting recent and ongoing increases in construction costs. “I would love to be able to replace more of the aging infrastructure that we have on and off campus,” she says.

Hickman recently worked with college leadership and the business offices before submitting $2.4 million in proposed capital projects for FY25.

She also works with researchers who seek grant support to modify facilities to better serve their research needs. “One of the things that I love to do is to is to learn about the research,” she says. “I want to be able to help researchers with my different connections that they might not know.”

As the liaison to Purdue’s Office of Administrative Operations, which does campus planning, Hickman also keeps an eye on developments that might directly and indirectly impact College of Agriculture operations, from parking garages to walkways. She also works with other colleges on potential collaborations and with the university offices related to capital asset management, space management and academic facilities campuswide.

Outside of her job, Hickman has kept busy as leader of her three daughters’ Girl Scout troops; mentor for other high school Girl Scouts working on their Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting; and her daughters’ many 4-H projects. But the intriguing combination of working with design and people means Purdue is often on her mind — no matter the day of the week.

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