When Anzilla Gilmore became a registered architect in 2004, she became the first Black woman to do so in the city of Houston and the fifth in Texas.
That historic accomplishment came with both opportunities to blaze trails and challenges that often left her feeling like she had to walk them alone. While she went on to work in traditional architectural practice and higher education project management for several years, the lack of representation in the field weighed heavy on her.
“The biggest challenge was staying positive in spaces where I didn’t always feel welcome and making a space for yourself,” Gilmore reflects.
Today, as interim associate vice president of facilities, engineering, and planning at Rice University, she’s responsible for making spaces both on campus and in her field that empower younger generations to break barriers, too.
When she isn’t overseeing facilities maintenance of more than 90 buildings, renovations, and new construction on campus, Gilmore serves as a mentor to students, employees, and colleagues inside and outside her department. She also extends her hand to young professionals in the community through the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Professional Development Program and the National Organization of Minority Architects’ Houston Chapter, organizations she cofounded.
Through those efforts and others, Gilmore wants to make sure that no one within her reach feels alone on their journey to success.
Anzilla Gilmore shares two pieces of advice:
- Never make the same mistake twice. “Try to learn from all of the people around you and recognize there’s a lot you can learn from their experiences.”
- Be confident. “Recognize that even though you may be the only person that looks like you in a space, that makes you special. I have to remind myself that my very existence in some spaces makes me exceptional.”
“My passion is supporting the next generation, and that also manifests in my role at Rice,” she explains. “There are a number of people in my department who don’t have degrees, or technical certifications. I encourage them by saying ‘You should get that degree or that certification or that training’ and assure them that the FEP department will support them.
“I also spend a lot of my time mentoring and developing programs to help people expand their network and connecting young people with individuals I’ve met in this profession,” she continues. “That passion comes from recognizing that I was the ‘only one’ that looked like me in many spaces. I don’t want anyone to believe they have to do this alone.”
An important part of that is tied to Gilmore’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion within hiring, contracting, procurement, and departmental training. She and university leaders have important conversations with potential contractors about the makeup of their teams and whether they reflect the diversity of Rice’s student body.
“I want architecture students to see the teams we are hiring and recognize that Rice hires people who look like them,” she says. “We’re having those conversations with our partners in advance saying, ‘bring us diversity, bring us teams that look like our students.’”
In her role, Gilmore aspires to be a transformational leader who focuses on serving her team and believes that all levels of an organization are important in their own way—a philosophy that not only has empowered her thirteen direct reports, but also is paving the way to captivating projects. The team is gearing up to work on two new colleges, an art building, and an engineering building while continuing to support Rice’s landscape and infrastructure.
“I don’t lead from the top,” she says. “I want people to have a voice. I want to hear their perspectives and their impressions. You’d be surprised where the best ideas come from.”
A Few of Anzilla Gilmore’s Favorite Projects
Anzilla Gilmore reflects on her most prized projects throughout her dynamic career:
“When I was at the University of Houston, I enjoyed working on renovations to the Bauer College of Business. At Rice, the projects closest to my heart are the ones centered around Housing and Dining, where I get to work closely with students. One of my favorite projects was the renovation of the Baker College Commons, the first commons on campus that, after we finished, kind of looked like Hogwarts.”
After graduating from Prairie View A&M University and the University of Texas at Arlington, Gilmore started her architecture career in traditional firms based in Dallas, Waco, and Houston. Those experiences informed her love for project management, which prompted her to step into a project manager role at the University of Houston in 2005. Two years later, she brought her expertise to Rice University, where she’s served in several roles, including senior project manager, director for project management, diversity and inclusion program director, and more.
For young professionals aspiring to follow in Gilmore’s footsteps, she advises: “Surround yourself with people who will lift you up. Surround yourself with people who will reinforce your worth and your capability and expose yourself to different experiences so you can continue to learn. Do everything you can to be as good as you can be.”
Anslow Bryant Construction is proud to have worked alongside Anzi in her tireless pursuit towards improving the Rice University campus and facilities. As a leader of the Rice University Facilities, Engineering, and Planning Department, her involvement in the new construction, renovation, and upscaling of the campus has helped countless future leaders and innovators in not just Houston, but the world. We are excited to continue working alongside Anzi as she continues to shapes the future.
B. Bell Builders has had the honor of working with Rice University for over a decade, constructing laboratories, classrooms, and renovating buildings on campus. We are proud to be a part of Rice’s history and to have helped them create spaces that foster growth and learning. We appreciate the trust they have placed in us, and we are committed to continuing our strong partnership for years to come. It’s partnerships like this that enable us to deliver innovative construction solutions while maintaining exceptional quality standards.