Building the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and then the National Museum of African American History and Culture changes a person. Lisa Anders, an MBA graduate at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, led both projects and will discuss her experiences at a Black History Month celebration 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 8, 2017, at the campus’ Riggs Alumni Center.
Visitors to the new Smithsonian museum can’t miss the restored Pullman railcar that dominates the Segregation Gallery in Concourse 2. The artifact has historical significance, pointing to an era when African American porters were required to live in separate quarters. Its placement in the museum also has engineering significance for Anders, vice president of business development for McKissack & McKissack, the architecture and planning firm that worked with the Smithsonian on the project. “I remember everything that it took to get that artifact in the building,” she says.
Crews had to shut down Constitution Avenue, lower the car into place about 50 feet below street level, and then build the museum around it. “I remember all the planning to make sure the artifact was restored in time and delivered on schedule,” Anders says. “We were still pouring concrete and we still had dirt.”
The project kept Anders busy with business and engineering challenges from 2008 to 2016, but it also opened her eyes as an African American woman to the contributions of so many people who came before her. “It wasn’t that long ago that slaves were building the Capitol,” she says. “Now an African American-owned firm like McKissack & McKissack is working for profit to build the African American Museum on the Mall — within eyeshot of the Capitol.”
In many ways Anders started preparing for her role in the project when she was still a child, growing up in Maryland’s Montgomery County. Instead of playing with dolls, she gravitated toward Legos, model cars and rockets. She converted her three-speed “girlie” bike into a BMX-style racer, and when it snowed she constructed ice forts and igloos. “I asked for things like a workbench for Christmas,” she says.
In high school she liked sports, science, photography and building things with her hands. “I liked cars and rockets and things that did something — that had action to it,” Anders says.
Her interests led to a civil engineering degree from Howard University, and then she took her first job with a construction company working on the AARP headquarters in Washington, D.C. She also supported renovations at the Pentagon and helped build the National Archives building in College Park.
Anders advanced quickly as an engineer, but her ambitions led her to Smith for an MBA. “I wanted to get to a place where I could be in a decision-making capacity,” she says. “In engineering school we learned how to mechanically and technically build a building, but we didn’t necessarily learn how to make sure that you could pay for it, and how to make sure that you could earn money.”
Anders moved to Cleveland after finishing her MBA and oversaw projects in that region. What brought her back to Washington was an opportunity to join McKissack & McKissack and build the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
“It was really an iconic project,” Anders says. “It’s part of the landscape of the District, just like the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. And to realize that I had been a part of history that will be there forever, I feel really blessed to have had that opportunity.”
Moving forward, Anders will use her engineering and business skills to help McKissack & McKissack grow and attract new clients. “I have an opportunity to exercise more of my business degree, and I couple that with my engineering degree in my discussions with clients,” she says.
Many organizations skip the expense of bricks and mortar in the digital economy, but Anders says there will always be demand for design and construction. “People still need people,” she says. “They need to be around people, and they need to see people, and they need to have a sense of community. Your workplace is community.”
Sheri Parks, associate dean and associate professor at UMD’s College of Arts and Humanities, will moderate the discussion, titled “Bridging Our Past, Constructing Our Future.” A light reception will follow the program, and registration is required.
The Smith School’s Office of Diversity Initiatives will host other Black History Month events, including the annual Diversity Fireside Chat at 1 p.m. Feb. 27. Smith School dean Alex Triantis will host Erika Irish Brown, Bloomberg’s Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion, for a candid conversation about the importance of advancing diversity in the workplace.
Bridging Our Past, Constructing Our Future
When: 5:30-8:30 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017
Where: Riggs Alumni Center - Orem Hall, UMD College Park
RSVP: Register here