Since 2013, Voices of Leadership has fostered conversations with women leaders who have broken ground in entrepreneurship, innovation, social change and leadership to inspire community partners and students. Leaders share their experiences, stories and best practices to help you see and pursue your own leadership potential. This annual event also enhances curriculum and the educational experiences for students through student projects that align with course learning objectives and also incorporate the themes from the keynote address.
Voices of Leadership 2021: Breaking Barriers with Linda Alvarado
The 2021 Voices of Leadership: Breaking Barriers event took place on Thursday, November 4 in Mount Mary University's Bergstrom Hall. The Women's Leadership Institute presented Voices of Leadership as both a successful in-person event and a live-stream webinar. Linda Alvarado, founder, President, and CEO of Alvarado Construction, owner of The Colorado Rockies, and majority owner of Palo Alto Inc., was the keynote speaker.
Voices of Leadership sponsors spent the 30 minutes prior to the event networking with Mount Mary University students. Students from the Leadership Education And Development (LEAD) Program, among others, connected with sponsors. LEAD Program participants are current Mount Mary students who completed the Women's Leadership Institute's Summer Leadership Academy. LEAD students attend monthly meetings to continue their leadership development and career readiness skills.
Voices of Leadership attendees viewed projects that Mount Mary students from several departments prepared for the event. Student projects included developing the breakfast menu, writing essays, and creating designs that revolved around the theme of “Breaking Barriers." See Campus Connections below for additional information on the student projects.
The program began with a blessing from S. Joan Penzenstadler, Vice President for Mission and Identity and was followed by introductions from three Mount Mary University students. The students discussed what breaking barriers means to them, what inspires them as leaders of their student organizations, and what they would like to see change in the world. Some speeches were in Spanish, highlighting Mount Mary's designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution and showing the significance of breaking barriers through language.
Alvarado's keynote was filled with humor and inspiration. Alvarado discussed the importance of believing in your ability to succeed through all the unexpected turns life throws your way, shared what it was like to break through the concrete ceiling in the male dominated construction industry as well as upend the ultimate boys club as the first female and first Hispanic owner of a Major League Baseball team. For further details, see Key Takeaways below. The keynote speech was followed by a lively Q&A session moderated by Sandra Dempsey, owner of Source TEN Creative and co-founder of Estamos Unidos US. Voices of Leadership concluded with Mount Mary University President, Dr. Christine Pharr, sharing how the Mount Mary community plans to continue to break barriers.
Immediately following the event, Alvarado viewed a presentation by Interior Architecture & Design students in Stiemke Hall. Students presented their ideas on creating a student union on campus. Following that, Alvarado had lunch with students involved in the SALSA Club and Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee - MMU Chapter. It was a meaningful and inspiring day for Mount Mary and the Milwaukee community.
"Linda was very personable, relatable and gave a very inspiring talk. I really enjoyed her and thought she was a good speaker to represent women in leadership. The follow up interview was also great ... The ways Mount Mary and students incorporated the theme into their classwork (shown on the video) was a great addition to provide a well-rounded program." - 2021 Voices of Leadership attendee
Doubly proud of the paths she forged as both a woman and a Latina, Alvarado shared nuggets of wisdom with the audience.
If it’s never been done before, it’s possible. Born in Albuquerque, NM, Alvarado grew up in a two-room adobe house with her parents and five brothers. She learned how to wrestle and change the oil in the car. After initially being turned down as a member of a sports team, she proudly showed her first-place ribbon for the long jump in track that she earned in high school.
Don’t look for excuses, find reasons you can succeed. Because she knew she might not be taken seriously as a woman, Alvarado applied for her first job using her initials instead of her name. She got the job and was able to interact with the architects and engineers on the site. She learned to read blueprints, do surveying and apply new technology for jobsite efficiency. Before long, she started her own company. “How to break through barriers? I don’t know that there’s a simple answer,” she said. Using baseball terminology, she continued, “you’ve got to take risks. “You won’t get to second base if you keep your foot safely on first.”
Better to ask a dumb question then to correct a dumb mistake. When applying for a business loan, Alvarado had to go to six different banks. She was told to change the name of her construction company from Alvarado Construction, and she was told to be less feminine. “Double trouble negatives,” she was told. “But I thought to myself, what happens when you multiply two negatives? You get a positive. And that put me on the trail where we needed to go,” she said.
The worst failure is failure to try. “You fall down but eventually you’re able to crawl, skip and then climb mountains,” she said of her progression from building bus shelters by the hundreds to eventually becoming an owner of the Colorado Rockies. “You are making a difference 365 days of the year; this isn’t just happening during women’s history or Hispanic heritage month,” she said. Having an enterprising spirit is vitally important to America’s present and her future.
The road of life is always under construction. Don’t give up, she told the audience. Find ways to persevere and make decisions for yourself. Alvarado said she never imagined becoming a contractor or the owner of a baseball team. “My dad played ball with a rec league when I was young,” she said. “I used to go with him and it was my job to clean off the plate.” Many years and marvelously unconventional experiences later, she added with a sly wink, “It’s the only plate I still know how to clean.”
Campus Connections: Learn More About Our Student Projects
The Women's Leadership Institute's Voices of Leadership event is about more than bringing a leader to campus to learn from her experiences. It's also an opportunity for our faculty to utilize the themes of the keynote to enhance the curriculum and explore these different topics with students in a way that is relevant to their disciplines. Learn about the course collaborations that were a part of this year's Voices of Leadership event here:
Dietetics students developed a menu for the breakfast that focused on providing nutrients to combat stress. They tested recipes, modified them for large scale productions, and priced, sourced, and prepped many of the ingredients for the event breakfast.
Dietetics Menu and Recipes found within Voices of Leadership Program
Students designed garments for "The Tradeswoman" or "The Professional" and researched the challenges these women in construction experience when shopping for functional workwear suited to their respective roles in the industry.
Human resource management
Students researched Human Resources topics that focused on barriers broken within that field such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the first person to hold a specific job, or an industry shift (e.g. the use of social media as a recruiting tool).
They created infographics as a visual representation of the facts of their chosen topics. Links to projects provided below.
Menstrual Benefits - Myrianna Nelson
Social Media in HR - Mai Vang Moua
interior architecture & design
he Interior Architecture & Design students created Women's Houses (Activity and Education Centers for Women) in Senegal, Africa, to promote gender equity in Africa. Student designs focused on ecological and sustainable architecture filled with symbolism and local traditions. They created spaces in which members of society will meet and discuss the topics of equality and human rights. Find the photos from the Interior Architecture & Design presentation below.
leadership for social justice
This course is required for all MMU students, and the textbook Great Peacemakers (2008) shares stories of some of the world's most prominent leaders in peacemaking. Following a discussion of Linda Alvarado and her contributions to peacemaking through participation in the nonprofit world, the Hispanic community and Hispanic education, students researched and wrote about an additional peacemaker as an additional chapter of the text. Find the Leadership for Social Justice course photos below.
Inspired by the work of Linda Alvarado, three-dimensional design students discussed the social impact of her leadership. Students learned woodworking skills to create a series of three sculptures. In the process of research, students discussed equity and the importance of access to resources in our communities. Starting with the same set of materials, each student created a series of three related sculptures.
world languages advanced composition
As double-majors in Spanish, students wrote essays about how they will break barriers with their college degrees. They each developed professional pieces displayed at the event to support them in their careers.
About Our Speaker
Linda Alvarado is president and CEO of Alvarado Construction, Inc., a commercial general contractor, construction manager, development, design/build, and property management firm. Based in Denver, the company has offices in several states and has successfully developed and constructed projects across America and internationally. Alvarado has 30 years' experience in commercial development, government and institutional general contracting, construction management, design/build, and program management contracts.
Alvarado made history as the first Hispanic (male or female) owner of a Major League Baseball franchise. As an owner of the Colorado Rockies, her role is also significant as it marked the first time that any woman was involved in a bid for ownership of a Major League Baseball team.
Her leadership in business, civic, and charitable organizations has earned her numerous awards for achievement. She has been a commissioner of the White House Initiative for Hispanic Excellence in Education.
Alvarado is the recipient of numerous awards. She was voted by viewers as the “Most Inspiring American Latino” for the 2009 American Latino Television Awards. She has been named by Hispanic Business Magazine and Latino Leaders Magazine as one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics in America.” In 2003, Alvarado was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and is a recipient of the Horatio Alger Award. Alvarado was honored along with US Attorney General, Janet Reno, and Maya Angelou as a recipient of the prestigious Sara Lee Corporation Frontrunner Award for exemplary achievement and leadership. Her success in business and active community involvement led to her recognition as a trailblazer in her field.