Maudeleine (Molly) Olson enjoys traveling the world, studying the architecture of different countries, and then applying what she learns in Colorado Springs.
Olson, 30, is a project manager at Colorado Springs Utilities. There she serves in a support capacity, primarily focusing on internal projects. She’s held the position for four years, but she brought a wealth of experience from her travels with her.
“This is technically my first job out of college, but I have worked a lot with architecture,” Olson said. “I actually went to Uganda and did international architecture there. I helped build a community center there. It was through my experience with architecture and facilities planning that I became a project manager.”
Olson was born in Haiti and adopted by an American family during a time when Haiti was experiencing political turmoil. She moved to the U.S. at the age of 3 and calls Colorado Springs her hometown.
She graduated from Evangelical Christian Academy and went on to attend college at the University of Colorado at Boulder where she earned a bacehlor’s degree in environmental design with an emphasis on architecture.
An avid traveler, she’s visited 13 countries, including Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Israel and Italy. In Italy, she had the opportunity to serve as a camp counselor. One of her favorite countries is Romania, where she has formed lasting friendships.
“I’m an architect and I love the built environment, but sometimes I like to go to very scenic environments like Romania. I just love to relax and take in the scenery. Romania has really great landscapes, and there are no vampires there, I checked,” Olson quipped.
Wherever she goes, she takes in the architecture and the design of communities.
With CSU’s approximately 2,000 employees, Olson works with many faces and serves in many capacities. She spoke with the Business Journal about her career, her goals and her advice to fellow young professionals.
As a project manager for Colorado Springs Utilities, what does your job entail?
My job is really customer based; I try to help out however I’m needed. For example, when somebody in a [CSU] building calls and says a toilet is leaking or we need furniture delivered, I am in charge of facilitating and coordinating that aspect. I do a lot of interior architecture. I work with the whole organization.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
I believe I have a strong work ethic and I like to get things done. I like the organization and I like problem-solving. There are a lot of projects and problems that go along with being a project manager. You have to be resilient to a lot of changes. One of my favorite aspects, and it keeps my job busy, is that every day is unique. There isn’t one day that’s the same. I love that.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed or impacted your job?
Honestly, it’s just made it more interesting. This is new territory for all of us. We still have people working in the office and we have people remotely working. We’re a utility company though, so regardless of what is happening in the world, we still have to keep the lights on. We’re just learning and adapting. We have been using the internet as our main focus during this time. The pandemic has reduced some projects that we had put in place, but we are trying to be innovative about how we use technology and how we work.
What got you interested in architecture?
I could be cliché and say I like Frank Lloyd Wright like everybody else, but it was actually the complexity of problems. Understanding the challenges that a lot of people face was a big drive for me. I am interested in urban design and I hope to continue that research. I’m currently in the Leadership Now group so I could learn how to be involved in other organizations in the city and other developments Downtown. This has been a journey for me to go from “I like art” to “I like complex things” to actually getting to design something. With this job, I enjoy working with space management and how we can use space well. People use the indoors so much. The majority of people live indoors, so it’s just really focusing on how your space affects you. There are aspects where we need things like clean ventilation, clean air and movement around the space. Sometimes it’s just a matter of updating the furniture; that can help with how you feel in a space. There are a lot of aspects to architecture.
Besides Leadership Now, what other community organizations are you involved in?
I’m actually in the works with some other people to start NOMA Colorado. NOMA stands for the National Organization for Minority Architects. This is something that is vastly needed; we need to be represented also.
What makes you stand out professionally?
I think just going back to my work ethic. I have very high standards. I’m all about the process and getting things accomplished for other people.
What are your professional goals?
My professional goals are to be an urban designer, and honestly what I really am looking at is food production. I’m very much into sustainable design and how if people are not farming anymore, how can we develop a new way of farming so that we can still maintain our food production. That’s what keeps me up at night. I’m also interested in tiny homes and I have done some studies on affordable housing. I am trying to be more invested and learning more about what is affordable and what other people think affordable living is. Another issue that’s important to me is water and keeping clean water resources. I am a very international person; I’ve gone on a lot of trips overseas and realized a lot of issues that are important to me.
What have you learned on your international trips?
When you are doing international work, there is a tendency to Americanize it or do it the American way because that’s just what you know. When you go over there, resources are very limited; sometimes resources are nonexistent. You really have to invest in the culture and learn more about what they do have and learn the vernacular. American-style houses do not fit in in Africa that well. I’ve really learned about being more consciously aware of the culture.
Besides traveling, what are some of your other hobbies?
I like to read. I think when you read, you learn more. That actually has been instilled in me by my parents. They taught me to read. I like learning new things and discovering new challenges. During COVID, for example, I had a lot more time with my family and I got to do things like learn more cooking. I’ve learned how to make tiramisu, which was very fun. So, I’ve been learning new things that I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for COVID.
What advice do you have for fellow young professionals?
A lot of times we have been told to not fail at anything. What I have been learning is to expect failure and to grow from it. There are going to be times when you fail, and you just have to learn from those experiences. That’s something that has taken me a while to grasp about going into my field of work and how I interact with other people. I think other young people need to know that going into their careers.