Rebuilding communities

As a single mother paying her way through college, Stephanie Hall’s early lessons in hard work weren’t confined to Missouri S&T classrooms.

Stephanie Hall Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

By the time her still-groggy classmates arrived for 8 a.m. classes, Hall had already worked the 5 a.m. shift baking doughnuts at Kroger. After morning classes came lunch-hour waitressing gigs. Nights and weekends meant homework, family time and more work as a waitress and bartender. “One job paid for childcare. One job paid for rent. One job paid for tuition,” says Hall, Econ’90, CE’97.

At 28 and a mother of three, she returned to S&T to pursue the engineering career she had envisioned as the young daughter of a Schlumberger oil field worker.

Hall followed her mother’s career advice — to zig where others would zag, and to view the absence of female role models in her chosen field as a challenge, not a disadvantage — and embarked on a 23-year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Her career has included leadership posts in Afghanistan, Germany and South Korea, as well as overseeing Hurricane Katrina recovery and reconstruction in her New Orleans hometown.

Hall’s only daughter, Antoinette Hay, CE’13, followed her mom into the Army Corps of Engineers after graduation.

“She never gave up,” says Hay. “She stayed the course and plowed through all the walls instead of going around. She’s more brute force than finesse. You’ll pay attention to her because she’s too good at what she does to ignore, she’s always been that way.”

Two years ago, eager for both a new professional challenge and the desire to live closer to her grandchildren, Hall joined the Corps’ Kansas City district office to oversee USACE Mega-project N2W, the $1 billion-plus design and construction of a western regional headquarters of the super-secretive National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). St. Louis community leaders hope the new spy complex, which is slated to open in 2022, will anchor a rebirth in an impoverished urban corner.

Those outsized expectations don’t deter Hall, who now finds herself in what is likely the most highly visible public role of her career.

As a senior government engineer, her experience includes building temporary “cities” for military operations (“everything from sewage treatment and water and electrical distribution to all the buildings”) to supervising over $5 billion in planning, design and construction in Afghanistan war zones.

“I like the challenge,” she says of her penchant for complex projects. “I like the dynamics, the multiple partners, the multiple stakeholders and the moving parts. I like the push and pull to start and finish.”

Hall is also mindful of her status as the type of role model whom she saw very little of earlier in her career, including at the university. In her case, that means promoting both the humanitarian and the public service aspects of her profession.

“In civil engineering, at the end of the day, through one way or the other, you’ve improved somebody’s life — their standard of living, their quality of life, their quality of work. Even if it’s just the roads they’re driving on. At the end of the day, it’s public service. You’ve contributed to the public well-being.”

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