Changing the architectural landscape of her alma mater

Maggie Burgett, one of this year's Amy J. Blue Award winners, has overseen the construction of landmark buildings on campus, including the Cantor Arts Center, the Clark Center and Y2E2. Now she is conducting the team building Bing Concert Hall.

L.A. Cicero Maggie Burgett

Maggie Burgett

After earning a bachelor's degree in Spanish from Stanford in 1976, Maggie Burgett opened the Yellow Pages to begin her job search.

While she had become fluent in Spanish during the two quarters she spent in Stanford's overseas campus in Salamanca, what she really wanted to do was work with her hands.

She called a furniture maker, who said, "That's all factory stuff these days. If you want to work with your hands, you should join the carpenters union."

So Burgett dialed the number of the Carpenters Union local in Palo Alto.

"Remember, this was 1976, so the first question I asked the man who answered the phone was, 'Do you accept women?'" Burgett said during a recent interview. "He answered with a very reluctant yes."

It was the first step on a career path that would one day bring her back to Stanford, first as a contractor, and in 1988, as a staff member in the Department of Project Management, which oversees the development, design and construction of new buildings on campus. It is one of nine departments in Land, Buildings and Real Estate.

"A simple tour of campus is all one needs to experience her competency," wrote Judy M. A. Chan, a senior community planner in the Department of Land Use and Environmental Planning, in a letter nominating Burgett for an Amy J. Blue Award.

"Walk through the Cantor Arts Center, drive by the Clark Center, be stimulated by the work being generated in Y2E2 [the Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building], walk through the Black Community Services Center and watch the unfolding of the new Science and Engineering Quad. In the near future, we will be able to reap the cultural benefits of her current assignment as the project manager for the Bing Concert Hall. She has completed almost 50 projects in her tenure, touching a wide segment of the Stanford community."

Burgett is one of three people chosen for a 2010 Amy J. Blue Award, which honors staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.

This year, the other two Amy J. Blue Award winners are Galen Crivello, the computer systems manager in the Pathology Department of Stanford School of Medicine, and Monica Wheeler, the administrative services manager in the History Department.

The three award winners will be honored next week, in a ceremony that will take place from 3:30 to 5 p.m. May 18, in Lagunita Courtyard  (off Santa Teresa Street, across from Roble Gym). The award comes with a $3,000 prize and an "A" parking permit for next year.

From carpenter to project manager


To become an apprentice carpenter, Burgett, who was born and raised in St. Louis, had to find her own job. With no experience and no training – while she had been a tomboy, she had never hammered a nail – she wasn't surprised when foremen laughed when she asked for work at job sites. But nothing dissuaded her.

"Sometimes ignorance is bliss," Burgett said with a laugh.

Then she got a call from Williams & Burrows Inc., a general contractor in Belmont, offering her a job at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. Burgett immediately accepted, and as she remembers it, the next part of the conversation went something like this:

How are you going to get to the job site?

I'm going to ride my bike.

How are you going to carry your tools?

What tools?

Didn't the union tell you that you needed to buy your own tools?

No. What tools do I need?

She bought the tools and a used car – her first stick shift.

Within four years, Burgett had become a journeyman carpenter and a foreman. She worked for Williams & Burrow, traveling to building sites all over the Bay Area, "soaking up" skills taught by experienced carpenters and building up her strength.

Over the last two decades working at Stanford, Burgett has overseen construction projects in the best of times – the dot-com boom – and in the worst of times – the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, the dot-com bust and the recent national recession.

One of her first projects was the seismic upgrade of Roble Hall, a Beaux-Arts dorm built in 1918 where her husband lived when he was a student. She recalls with pride that the hall withstood its first major test, the 1989 earthquake, which occurred a month after the crew completed its work.

Burgett said she looks forward to the day when the last reminders of the earthquake – the trailers that were installed around campus as "temporary" classrooms and offices – have all been removed.

She has been a senior project manager – overseeing major construction projects from conception to completion – since 1998.

As a senior project manager, Burgett is responsible for the planning, design, construction and turnover of capital projects on campus.

University Architect David Lenox said one of Burgett's strengths is her ability to bridge the gap that often surfaces between faculty, students, researchers, donors, architects and contractors on a project.

"Her soft but firm touch with all of the project team players has always resulted in excellent, well programmed and constructed buildings," he wrote in a letter nominating Burgett for the award. "Often, project participants enjoy the journey that Maggie leads them on during the design and construction process so much that there is a sense of loss when the building is actually completed."

Burgett received many accolades from people who nominated her for the award:

  • "She combines a quiet graciousness with a ferocious work schedule."
  • "Of course, there's that laugh of hers, which makes everyone smile and can make even some of the most tense moments obsolete."
  • "She manages, effortlessly and seamlessly, with no regard for recognition or accolades, crediting the team for the results."
  • "She exudes the kind of personality that wins over the most difficult of people. Smart and organized, she exhibits personal and business acumen that others can rely on, respect and respond to favorably."

Burgett lives in Mountain View with her husband, Kimble Smith, '76, an electrical engineer whom she met while both were students at Stanford. Their two sons are away at college in Boston and New York City, but they share their home with a husky named Zorro.

Anyone who knows Burgett knows that she is committed to leaving the smallest possible carbon footprint in the world – and on the Farm. She bicycles to work and to meetings and construction sites all over campus – rain or shine.

"One less car on the road and one less car to park at Stanford," she said during a recent interview at the future site of the Bing Concert Hall, her red bike parked nearby.

Which raises the question: What will Burgett do with the "A" parking permit – which gives commuters the best and most plentiful array of parking spaces on campus – that comes with the Amy J. Blue Award?

"I hope the parking pass can be assigned to the Department of Project Management and shared by my colleagues," she said.