The Department of Construction Management spotlights graduate student senior, Anna Simpkins, who is originally from Tacoma, WA, with a bachelor of arts degree from Whitworth University. However, her mom, a CSU alumna, returned to Colorado when Simpkins was in college, to become the Director of Operations and Engagement at CSU’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising. Simpkins credits her mother with instilling in her a love and respect for old things – especially focusing toward buildings.
Living and working in Fort Collins, Simpkins decided to pursue the CM graduate program. With a master’s degree in historic preservation, a joint degree from Clemson University and the College of Charleston, Simpkins wanted to combine her historic architecture and material background with current construction practices. “This combination was something that had interested me for a while,” she explains, “and CSU worked with my unique background. Plus going to class in some of the oldest buildings on campus was a bonus.”
Her background prior to starting at CSU was primarily in historic architecture, material science, and urban planning. Simpkins is really interested in building material failures, identifying their sources, and devising solutions for repair and future prevention. She completed a summer internship with Morley Builders in Santa Monica, CA, and currently works for Bryan Construction. Both companies have experience working with historic buildings, something she has specifically looked for in employers.
Well-prepared for the future
Did her time at CSU and in CM prepare her well for her career? “Absolutely,” Simpkins said. “Professors gave me the freedom to tailor assignments to my specific interests and expertise so I could really develop a unique skillset. I was a member of the Associated Schools of Construction (ASC) Integrated Project competition team for two years. The experience was time-consuming, but I learned a lot and made some great industry connections. I was grateful for courses where professors allowed me to bring in my background with historic buildings to complete assignments.” As an example, Simpkins completed a historic structures report for a campus building, as part of a larger class proposal, for an adaptive reuse; she researched how an emerging construction technology can uniquely benefit an historic building projects, and completed an independent study looking at how well historic buildings comply with an existing building rating system based on their inherent design and construction.
Simpkins spent a great deal of time researching her independent study related to examining the preservation plans of 13 western states’ land grant universities. She produced a technical paper on the mechanical and structural system of the Wyoming Capitol Square project, as it was nearing the end of a 3-year, $270 million renovation, about $100 million of which went to restoring the Capitol Building to its 1917 appearance, the year the last addition was completed. Simpkins was interested in looking at how the project team integrated modern mechanical systems into a building that was never designed to have them, while maintaining the historic character and appearance of the building. For her, the highlight of the research getting to go on the outside of the Capitol Dome while it was scaffolded, during a site visit. Her paper on this topic was recently accepted by a peer-reviewed ASCE journal.
Pursuing her career relative to historical buildings
Following graduation, Simpkins is getting married and moving to eastern New Mexico where her fiancé is stationed. She will continue with Bryan Construction as a project engineer with their Federal Group on a military design-build project. Her long-term dream job is to work for McMenamins, a company based in Portland, OR that owns several quirky hotels, brew pubs, event venues and more across the Pacific Northwest, the majority of which are in historic buildings like old schools and churches. They currently have about 50 sites, so she would love to be on the construction side when they acquire new properties, since she knows both the historic buildings, as well as what is needed for the rehabilitation from a new construction standpoint.
Simpkins’ advice for graduate students is to get involved broadly in the community beyond CSU. “I have made some great contacts serving on the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission, and volunteering for Poudre Landmarks Foundation on the Historic Homes Tour Committee,” she said. “Diversify your skillset as much as you can, so what you have to offer is unique! Take a job or internship across the country if you get a chance, because it will show you how projects are planned and managed outside of the Front Range.”