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Meet Julie Irving, 2009 Administrative Professionals Innovation Award Winner

By: Shari Lifland
Last updated 3/23/2011

American Management Association is pleased to honor Julie Irving as the winner of AMA’s 2009 Innovation Award for Administrative Professionals. Julie, an administrative assistant at Battelle Energy Alliance, a contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho, received her award at the 17th Annual Administrative Professionals Conference in Orlando, Florida on October 5.

Julie Irving winner of AMA’s 2009 celebrates outstanding examples of creative problem solving and innovation in administrative support. The primary purpose of the award, now in its eleventh year, is to serve as an inspiration to administrative professionals as they advance in their professional development and seek new knowledge and skills.

The story behind Julie Irving’s winning AMA Innovation Award entry began with a distraught phone call from her daughter. She called to say that she had been involved in a car accident. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the circumstances behind the accident seemed almost unbelievable to Julie: her daughter hit a “monster truck” while backing up her Dodge Durango. Julie asked her why she hadn't checked her rear view mirror before backing up. Her daughter replied, "I did, but I couldn't see it. It was in my blind spot."

How could her daughter have failed to see a big, hulking monster truck? Julie decided to investigate. What she discovered stunned her.

In her Innovation Award entry materials, Julie wrote: “Having the 'safety culture' ingrained in me, I decided to check it out further to see if others may have experienced similar circumstances. I started by going online and researching accidents that occur from people backing up vehicles and not being able to see in their ‘blind spot.’ What I discovered led me down an incredible road that impacted my family, the employees at my company, and people at local and regional outreach safety events."

Julie’s research convinced her that her daughter was very fortunate that she had only hit a truck. She wrote, "Every year, thousands of children are injured or killed because a driver backing up didn’t see them in the blind spot behind their vehicle. Many of the victims are five years of age or less…Tragically, in over 70% of these incidents, a parent or close relative is behind the wheel."

For most people, that would have been the end of it. Her daughter was OK and thankfully, no one had been injured in the accident. But Julie Irving isn't "most people."
She made up a poster and a “Blind Spot Safety Pack” and presented it to her organization’s Employee Safety Team, asking for their support in sharing the information with employees and the community.

She also found a Website that described a "Blind Spot Safety Test," a live demo that shows participants just how large a blind spot can be. She reached out to local dealerships, which provided vehicles for the test at no charge. Julie describes the test: “We placed a variety of props—bicycles, scooters, strollers, stuffed animals and a life-size cut-out of a child—behind a vehicle in random spaces from the bumper out to a line 50 feet away. We then asked participants to get in a vehicle, look in their rear view mirror and tell us what they could see. The answer was always the same: ‘nothing.’ Most people taking the Blind Spot Safety test were totally shocked. It awakened a new awareness of what we think we can see, versus what we can actually see.”

Julie didn’t stop there. She created key chains and brochures promoting back-up safety and distributed them to Blind Spot Safety Test participants. She also created a special presentation for school children to educate them about the hazards of venturing behind a parked car.

Julie Irving is an inspiring example of how one person can truly make a difference in the world. Says Andrea Iadanza, Director of Portfolio Management and Operations for AMA: "We received many fine entries for this year's Innovation Award. But Julie’s entry really stood out because she was able to extend the impact of her initiative far beyond the walls of her own organization. She took an important safety issue, and through her determination and creativity, found a way to inform and educate so many people. She really exemplifies the spirit of the Award and we are very proud to recognize her achievement and to help her spread her message even further.”

Julie’s noble spirit of caring came through in her Innovation Awards application. The last paragraph reads: "Whether I win this contest or not, it doesn’t really matter. But I would ask a favor of each person on the panel. Please take a few minutes to try "Blind Spot Safety" yourself, with your spouse and children. Believe me, it is worth the few minutes that it takes and who knows, it just might save a life.”

She echoed that commitment in her acceptance speech at the Administrative Professionals Conference, urging her audience to do the same. "After all," she said, "if my daughter couldn't see a monster truck in her blind spot, what chance does a small child have?”

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.