In a short time, Shelton Anderson, the former vice president and chief facilities management officer at Clark Atlanta University (CAU), was able to oversee a multiyear modernization of the Thomas Cole Research Center for Science and Technology. He also worked on behalf of the university to help secure a program partnership with Ed Farm, an organization which has raised $50 million in contributions for a landmark project to construct the Propel Center, a 50,000 square-foot education, equity, and innovation center that will house lecture halls, learning labs, common areas, and fully furnished residence housing for the historical Black college and university’s educational community. This facility will be built in the Atlanta University Center.
The highlights are significant, and Anderson’s impact on the future of social justice and equity efforts both on the campus at CAU and abroad are huge. But what now? Anderson is intent on finding ways to invest in underserved areas, build affordable housing, and grant the chance of home ownership to those who previously thought it unattainable. Anderson isn’t done giving back. He’s just getting started.
On Campus Efforts
Anderson can’t wait to explore the next step in his career, but his work at CAU deserves further inspection and explanation.
Anderson’s team essentially replaced the entire HVAC system and infrastructure of the Cole Research Center, roughly 210,000 square feet of space. “We replaced everything from the exhaust fans and chillers to the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems that feed them,” he explains. “We replaced a significant area of the building with modern lighting, ceilings, flooring, painting, and accent walls as well as lab fume hoods where the researchers conduct their biology, chemistry, physics, and cancer research experiments.”
The team also equipped the building with backup power and renovated nearly every restroom on the four floors. “It’s now a state-of-the-art facility,” Anderson says. “When we had our board meeting here in October 2021, one member noted that they could barely recognize the fourth-floor laboratories, let alone the boardroom.”
Sustainability was a key motivator in projects across the campus. In the Thomas Cole building, the HVAC system is equipped with smart controls that regulate temperature and turn the systems off when they’re not needed.
“The focus continues to be looking at key areas where we can reduce our carbon footprint and getting the students engaged and excited in living in that sustainable process,” Anderson says. CAU won the 2020 “Recycle-mania” event held across the Atlanta HBCU systems, proof that the mindset is taking hold.
The Propel Center
Anderson and the broader team were able to secure a program partnership with Ed Farm, $50 million in grants from Apple and the Southern Company, and the design and development of the Propel Center within the Atlanta University Center.
“Propel Center will serve as a catalytic epicenter of learning that provides HBCU students with the knowledge, skills, tools, and resources necessary to transform our nation’s talent pipeline and workforce,” the mission statement reads. “Our vision is to build generations of Black leaders who advance equity and justice through technology, entrepreneurship, education, and social impact.”
The Propel Center’s educational tracks will be varied, ranging from AI and machine learning to agriculture technologies, social justice, augmented reality, entrepreneurship, and more.
“We’re thrilled to be partnering with Apple on this extraordinary project,” says Anthony Oni, who is Ed Farm’s founder and chairman as well as a vice president at the Southern Company. “The Propel Center will help cultivate leadership and drive innovation in tech and beyond, acting as a springboard for change in communities across America.”
Renderings of the Propel Center are as impressive as its mission, and Anderson says that the programs that will be taught inside its walls are being developed by Ed Farm and its program partners, of which CAU is one. “All I can say is that it’s going to be a world-class innovation center,” Anderson says proudly.
The Next Step
Anderson’s next challenge makes more sense when you understand where he comes from. “I’m an inner-city child who grew up in an underserved area in St. Louis, Missouri,” he explains. “The community I come from, candidly, was considered to be a prospect for very limited opportunities.”
In defiance of these expected outcomes, Anderson joined the Marines and saw the world. After his service, he began working in real estate, accumulating experiences at Fortune 500 companies such as Wells Fargo and Equifax before coming to the university.
“My experiences have provided me with such knowledge and opportunity that I now want to focus on developing and investing in communities that need it, starting with my community in Atlanta,” Anderson says. “I will be able to partner with all of the amazing construction companies, architects, and engineers to really make an impact and engage people that need these opportunities.”
Now, as founder and CEO of Anderson Real Estate Development, his first focus will be sustainable housing and redevelopment in Atlanta, with an emphasis on community-building. “Affordable and sustainable housing is the critical first step,” Anderson explains. “From there, we’ll move on to create spaces and environments that will attract the kinds of businesses that will help bring opportunities to these areas, while making sure people are able to stay in their homes and benefit from the development.”
It’s an amazing moment for Anderson. His excitement is palpable. He may not be at CAU to see the completion of the Propel Center, but in so many ways, he is a living embodiment of the mission of the center.
Anderson’s final words make an impact. “Let’s talk soon,” he says. “I’m really excited to show you all the great work we’re going to get done.”
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